What are Google SEO Ranking Factors

10 Google Ranking Factors You Should Not Ignore

Most lists of Google ranking factors are too long. They focus on listing every single factor under the sun rather than just the ones that actually matter.

Since nobody knows all of the ranking factors, most of them also contain a lot of myths.

That's why we're going to take a different approach today. Instead of listing more than 200 ranking factors, we're going to talk about the ten that we think deserve your special attention.

These are, in no particular order

Backlinks are arguably the most important ranking factor.

How can we know? Backlinks form the basis of the pagerank, which forms the basis of the Google ranking algorithm. And before you point out that PageRank is yesterday's news, Google's Gary Illyes confirmed that PageRank will still be used in 2018:

DYK that after 18 years we're still using PageRank (and 100s of other signals) in ranking?

Wanna know how it works? Https: //t.co/CfOlxGauGFpic.twitter.com/3YJeNbXLml

- Gary “鯨 理 / 경리” Illyes (@method) February 9, 2017

Independent research also confirms the relationship between backlinks and organic traffic, including our study of over a billion websites:

However, not all backlinks are created equal.

Many factors go into making a backlink move the needle, and the two most important are Relevance and authority.


Imagine you are looking for the best Italian restaurant in your city. You ask two friends for a recommendation. One is the head chef, the other a veterinarian. Whose advice do you trust?

Probably the head chef as he has experience with Italian cuisine.

If you were looking for dog food recommendations, the opposite would be the case.

The same idea can also be found on the Internet. Links from relevant websites and pages have the greatest value.


Backlinks from strong sites to strong sites tend to move the needle the hardest.

You can gauge the relative strength of a referring domain and website by looking at the Domain Rating and URL Rating in Ahrefs' Site Explorer:

In this video you will learn more about what a high quality backlink is


Build more high quality backlinks to rank higher.

Freshness is a query-dependent ranking factor, i.e. it is more important for some queries than for others.

For example, all the results for “Brexit News” are super fresh. Google even shows a "Top Stories" section with results from the last few hours.

It does this because Google knows that people want to see breaking news.

In other queries, freshness still plays a role - but a less important one.

Take, for example, the search query “best office chair”.

Since companies only bring new office chairs onto the market from time to time, a good recommendation from last month is still a good recommendation today.

Google knows this, so they're relaxed about showing results that are a few months old.

When it comes to a question like “how do you tie a tie”, freshness is hardly an issue because the process of tying a tie never changes. A ten year old guide can be as good as one published yesterday.

This explains why Google shows both old and new pages in the top five:

Review the search results to gauge the importance of freshness for your target keyword (s).

  • When freshness plays a major role, you should either refresh the page frequently or keep posting new articles on the topic to keep up with demand.
  • When freshness is important but not critical, update your page regularly and update it when the rankings start to drop.
  • When freshness is of little concern, focus all efforts on creating the best guide on the subject.

Google wants to rank pages from authoritative sources - and that goes way beyond backlinks.

How can we know?

Check out the top SEO metrics for "Burn Cast Iron":

Based on metrics alone, it would be difficult to figure out why these first two results outperform the third. Both have fewer backlinks, fewer referring domains, lower UR scores, and can be found on websites with less authority.

But when you look at the websites it makes sense ...

The website in third place is a general cooking and lifestyle blog, while the two at the top sell cast iron cookware - and nothing else.

In other words, the two sites at the top have what we like to call "thematic authority".

Here is another example:

Based on metrics alone, the first result shouldn't outperform the second. It's weaker in any traditional SEO sense.

The most likely reason it gets ranked where it ranks is "thematic authority." It focuses solely on cleaning, while the site in second place focuses on housekeeping in a broader sense.

But besides the occasional “anecdotal”, are there also signs of “thematic authority” as a ranking factor?

In any case.

First, Google's search quality rating guidelines mention something called E ‑ A-T. This stands for expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Call us crazy, but we're pretty sure no website can prove these three things for every topic.

That's probably why Google's SEO guide for beginners asks you to:

Cultivate a reputation for competence and trustworthiness in a certain area.

Second, pages on websites that are closely focused on a particular subject will have more internal links from pages about similar things. Internal links to pages not only increase their authority, but also help Google understand what those pages are about.

Third, there is evidence that the perceived authority of a website under this Google patent depends on the query. Bill Slawski explains more here.

Don't post content about anything and everything. Keep the topic tightly focused and build a reputation for yourself in an area (e.g. laptops, not technology). You can always expand on the topic at a later point in time.

Google doesn't rank the same content type for every search query.

For example, someone searching for “buy clothes online” is in buy mode. He wants to see the products he can buy. For this reason, Google shows pages in the e-commerce category.

On the other hand, a person looking for "how to tie a tie" is in learning mode. She wants to know how to tie a tie, not how to buy one. This is why Google shows blog entries.

The analysis of the current top ranking results for the "four I’s of search intent" is an excellent opportunity to understand the basics of optimization for a search query.

The four I’s are:

Content style

The content style is the dominant content style in the search results. It's almost always web pages, but sometimes videos too.

Take for example the search query "iPhone X unboxing":

It would be almost impossible to have a webpage on the first page for this query. If you want to rank here, you'll need to create a video and optimize it.

Content type

Content types almost always fall into one of four areas: Blog entries, product, category and Landing Pages.

For example, the top ranking pages for “Buy a smartphone” are all e-commerce category pages:

"Buy iPhone" are mostly product pages:

Content format

The content format applies above all to information content. How-tos, listicles, tutorials, news articles and Opinion contributions are examples of common formats.

For example, the results for "Money Saving Tips" are all lists:

The results for the "future of Bitcoin" are all expressions of opinion:

Content perspective:

The content point of view is the main selling point of the content, and there is usually a dominant point of view in search results.

For example, the top scores for "how to play golf" are aimed at beginners.

Make an effort to align your content with the search intent.

Google wants to rank the most useful result for the search query, so it's important to cover everything the searcher wants to know.

However, it is not about the length of the content. Longer content isn't always better.

It's about covering what is important to the seeker and what he expects to see.

Take, for example, a search query like "best watch brands".

From analyzing search intent it is clear that people have lists of the best luxurywatches and brands want. However, that does not tell us what is important in terms of content. So let's look at the similarities between the top ranked pages.

First of all, they all mention the price:

That makes sense. Those looking for a new watch are clearly on the lookout for a new watch, and everyone has a budget.

Second, all of the watches from well known brands like Rolex mention:

That also makes sense. It's hard to imagine a list of luxury watch brands that doesn't mention Rolex.

Third, they are all talking about technical specifications like diameter and thickness:

If you wanted to rank this request, you should probably talk about these things as well.

This is not about copying others; it's about looking at the similarities between the top ranking results to understand what's important to the searchers.

You can also take clues from the “People too ask” box to find out what is important for the seeker ...

... and the "Related Searches" area at the bottom of the page:

In addition, you can use Ahrefs' content gap tool to see which queries the top ranking pages are also ranking for. Just paste in some of the top URLs and hit "Show Keywords".

Take cues from the highest ranked pages to create useful content. Research other questions that seekers want answers to and include them where it makes sense.

Page speed has been a ranking factor since 2010 when it affected 1% of desktop searches.

That changed in 2018 when Google expanded the ranking factor to include mobile search.

Even now, however, the factor only affects "a small percentage of searches" and is mostly a problem for sites that "offer users the slowest experience".

This is an important point. Beating the competition by a few milliseconds is not the goal here. Rather, it's about making sure your website is fast enough not to negatively affect users.

How fast is that

In 2018, Google stated that mobile sites should display content to users in less than three seconds and that the TTFB (Time to First Byte) should be under 1.3 seconds.

They also say that the total size of a mobile website should be less than 500kb.

However, Google's John Mueller said a few months earlier that TTFB is not used to generate search rankings, so these recommendations should be treated with caution.

AFAIK we currently don’t use TTFB for anything in search / ranking. It can be a good proxy for user-facing speed, but like other metrics, don't blindly focus on it.

- 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) November 30, 2017

If you're worried about page speed, check out the speed report on the Google search console. This shows which of your pages are loading slowly on desktop and mobile devices.

Make sure your pages load fast enough for users.

HTTPS improves security for visitors by encrypting the data between the browser and the server.

In 2014, Google announced HTTPS as a very weak signal that comprises less than 1% of global queries. Since then, Google has stepped up its commitment to HTTPS and now displays an “Not Secure” warning in Chrome when you visit an unencrypted page.

If you have unsafe pages with input fields, you may also have received a warning email from the Google search console.

Despite all of this, HTTPS remains a minor ranking factor, as John Mueller confirmed in early 2019.

Yeah, that's wrong. HTTPS is not a factor in deciding whether or not to index a page, at all. We do use HTTPS as a light-weight ranking factor, and having HTTPS is great for users. A free certificate from Let's Encrypt works just as well.

- 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) January 29, 2019

The reason we mention it is because it's a quick and easy win.

Install an SSL certificate to make your website more secure. Get a free certificate from LetsEncrypt.

Nearly two-thirds of searches are done on mobile phones, so it's no surprise that Google made websites a mobile search ranking factor in 2015.

Google speaker just said “mobile is 65% of all searches today” # Engage2019

- Greg Sterling (@gsterling) August 1, 2019

Later, in July 2019, when Google moved to mobile-first indexing, Later, in July 2019, when Google switched to “mobile-first” indexing, they also made usability on mobile devices a ranking factor for desktop search .

How do you know how mobile-friendly your website is?

Check the "Mobile Usability" report in the Google search console.

This report will tell you if any of your sites have issues with mobile friendliness.

Make sure every page on your website is mobile-friendly.

Google wants to rank content that gives visitors a positive experience.

Not only is this obvious, but the actions of the search giant over the years also prove it.

For example, Google announced in 2016 that pages with intrusive interstitial ads (i.e., pop-ups) may not rank as highly as those that provide a better user experience.

In addition, Google's SEO guide for beginners says:

You should build a website for the benefit of your users, and any optimization should be aimed at improving the user experience.

But what things contribute to a good user experience?

Here are some suggestions from Google:

  • Easily readable content;
  • Well organized website;
  • Interesting and useful content;
  • Attractive design;
  • No intrusive advertising;
  • Website tailored to the needs of the user.

There is a lot of discussion in the SEO community about how Google could measure user satisfaction. Common theories include analyzing metrics such as clickthrough rate (CTR), length of stay, time on the page, and bounce rate.

Google has pending numerous patents describing how click rate and other behavioral signals could be used to influence search engine rankings. Still, the company remains adamant that these factors are too fragile and unreliable to exploit.

Lots of SEO pros disagree, but their evidence is single example at best.

Have 20 seconds? Would love help testing this. Just follow quick directions in the graphic: pic.twitter.com/oSf7lAkyma

- Rand Fishkin (@randfish) June 21, 2015

So here are our two cents:

Nobody knows how Google measures user satisfaction, but they probably have their methods. So instead of chasing arbitrary metrics like length of stay, focus on creating a great overall experience for visitors.

Make your website user friendly. Remove distractions, organize content logically, write for readability, and do research. Do everything in your power to get the best result for your target keyword.

Google strives to rank accurate results for every search query.

Imagine you are looking for "who founded Microsoft", click on the first result and see that:

The founder of Microsoft wasn't Steve Jobs. It was Bill Gates.

You would soon lose trust in Google and switch to an alternative search engine.

The accuracy of the content is especially important in YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) queries, which Google says are the ones that "have the potential to affect the future happiness, health or prosperity of users".

An example could be the "Aspirin Dosage" which receives 7,800 searches a month in the US:

If Google were to rank imprecise results for this search query, it would not only be slightly uncomfortable for users, but also dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

So how does Google ensure that accurate information is listed?

Backlinks are one option. No one will link to a page that recommends dangerously high aspirin doses.

Google also uses the data in its Knowledge Graph, which is essentially a huge knowledge base with interconnected data points about people, places, things, and other entities.

For example, a search for "van Gogh paintings" will bring up a list of works of art from the Knowledge Graph at the top of the search results.

The same goes for Monet:

There is also evidence that Google uses information from trusted databases to return and classify accurate content. Bill Slawski talks more about it here.

Make sure your content is correct. Check out trusted knowledge bases like Wikimedia, Wikipedia, and Google's knowledge graphs to check things you are unsure about.

Final thoughts

Everything above can be summarized in eight steps:

  1. Give seekers what they are looking for.
  2. Make sure your website looks great on any device.
  3. Make sure that visitors are comfortable on your website and are distracted as little as possible.
  4. Explain exactly everything visitors want to know.
  5. Build expertise on a topic; don't be an all-rounder.
  6. Get recommendations from other websites in the form of backlinks.
  7. Update content regularly and keep it fresh (where necessary).
  8. Complete all of the above tasks quickly and safely.

Is any of this advice new? Is he sexy

No, and that's what it's all about.

Ranking in Google is rarely about the latest tips, tricks and keywords. It's about doing the job creating content that searchers are looking for, delivering a good user experience, and proving to Google that it is the best result for the search query.

Do you have any questions? Write to me on Twitter.

Translated by sehrausch.de: Search engine & conversion optimization, online marketing & paid advertising. A perfect fit from a single source.