Too many Google ranking factors are listed. Instead of focusing on important factors, they list everything.
Most contain myths because nobody knows them all.
Today, we’ll try something new. Instead of 200+ ranking factors, we’ll focus on ten.
Here’s a random list:
- Topical authority
- Search intent
- Content depth
- Page speed
- User experience
Backlinks are a key ranking factor.
Why? Backlinks drive PageRank, Google’s ranking algorithm. PageRank is still used in 2017 according to Google’s Gary Illyes.
Our study of over a billion web pages confirms the link between backlinks and organic traffic.
Backlinks aren’t all equal.
Relevance and authority are key to a backlink’s effectiveness.
Find the best Italian restaurant in your city. Two friends recommend someone. Chef and vet. Trust whose advice?
The chef, since they know Italian food.
The opposite is true for dog food recommendations.
This concept is online. Relevant links are valuable.
Strong pages on strong websites have the most impact.
Domain Rating and URL Rating in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer show the relative strength of a linking domain and web page.
This video explains what makes a good backlink.
Freshness varies by query, so it’s more important for some than others.
All “Brexit news” results are new. Google shows “Top Stories” with recent results.
Google knows people want recent news.
Freshness matters less for other queries.
Example: “best office chair”
Since companies only occasionally release new office chairs, a good recommendation from last month is still good today.
Google knows this, so they show old results.
The process of tying a tie never changes, so freshness isn’t important. Ten-year-old guides can be as good as new ones.
That’s why Google ranks old and new pages highly. Have you been working in SEO for a number of years? Most likely, you recall Google’s Toolbar PageRank. Google PageRank is NOT Dead, just give it a read.
Google prioritises authoritative sources beyond backlinks.
Top “cast iron seasoning” SEO metrics:
Metrics alone don’t explain why the first two results are higher. Both sites have fewer backlinks, referring domains, UR scores, and authority.
But the sites make sense…
Third is a cooking and lifestyle blog, while the top two sell cast-iron cookware.
The top two sites have “topical authority.”
First shouldn’t rank above second based on metrics. It’s less SEO-friendly.
Most likely due to “topical authority.” It focuses solely on cleaning, while position two is more general.
Is “topical authority” a ranking factor beyond anecdotes?
Google’s rater guidelines mention E-A-T. Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. We’re pretty sure no site can do all three for every topic.
Google’s SEO beginner guide suggests:
Develop a reputation for expertise and trustworthiness.
SIDENOTE. Google’s algorithms are designed to rank pages from websites with E-A-T.
Second, tightly focused websites will have more internal links from similar pages. Internal links increase a page’s authority and help Google understand it.
Third, this Google patent suggests a site’s perceived authority is query-dependent. Bill Slawski elaborates.
Google’s search results aren’t always the same.
Someone searching “buy dresses online” is buying. They want to buy products. Google displays ecommerce category pages.
“How to tie a tie” searchers are in learning mode. They want to tie, not buy. Google shows blog posts.
Analyzing the top-ranking results for the “four C’s of search intent” can help you optimise a query.
Search results favour content style. Web pages and sometimes videos.
Example: “iPhone X unboxing”
It’s nearly impossible to rank on page one for this query. You must optimise a video to rank.
Blog posts, product, category, and landing pages are common content types.
It’s mostly product pages for “buy iPhone”
Informational content is formatted. Common formats include how-tos, listicles, tutorials, news, and opinion pieces.
“Money-saving tips” results are all lists.
All “future of bitcoin” results are opinions.
Content angle is the main selling point, and search results usually have a dominant angle.
Top “how to play golf” results are for beginners.
Covering everything searchers want to know helps Google rank the most useful result.
Not content length. Sometimes shorter is better.
It’s about what searchers want to see.
Example: “best watch brands.”
People want lists of the best luxury watches and brands, according to search intent. That doesn’t tell us what’s important, so let’s look at top-ranking pages’ commonalities.
True. Everyone has a budget for a new watch.
They all mention Rolex watches.
Also logical. Rolex is a staple of luxury watch brands.
Rank for this query by talking about these things.
This isn’t about copying others; it’s about analysing top-ranking results to learn what searchers value.
“People also ask” boxes can help you determine what’s important.
Third, they discuss diameter and thickness.
Use Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool to see what queries top pages rank for. Paste top URLs and click “Show keywords.”
In 2010, page speed affected 1% of desktop search queries.
Google expanded mobile search rankings in 2018.
Even now, the factor only affects “a small percentage of queries” and mostly slow pages.
That’s key. Here, milliseconds are irrelevant. It’s more about ensuring your site’s speed doesn’t affect users.
In 2018, Google said mobile pages should load in under three seconds and TTFB should be under 1.3 seconds.
Mobile web pages should be under 500kb, they say.
TTFB isn’t used for search ranking, so take these guidelines with a grain of salt.
Check Google Search Console’s Speed report for page speed. This shows slow desktop and mobile pages.
HTTPS encrypts browser-to-server data, improving visitor security.
In 2014, Google said HTTPS affected less than 1% of global queries. Since then, Google has increased its commitment to HTTPS and now warns users of unencrypted pages in Chrome.
Google Search Console may have warned you about non-secure pages with input fields.
John Mueller confirmed in early 2019 that HTTPS remains a light ranking factor.
It’s quick and easy, so we mention it.
Google made mobile-first indexing a desktop ranking factor in July 2019.
Is your site mobile-friendly?
Google Search Console’s “Mobile Usability” report.
This report shows you which pages aren’t mobile-friendly.
Google ranks content that provides a positive experience.
The search giant’s actions prove this.
Google announced in 2016 that pages with pop-up ads may not rank as highly as those with a better user experience.
Google’s SEO guide says:
Any website optimization should improve the user experience.
What factors affect user experience?
Easy-to-read content; well-organized site; interesting and useful content; responsive design; no intrusive ads; user-centered design.
SEOs debate how Google measures user satisfaction. Clickthrough rate (CTR), dwell time, pageviews, and bounce rate are commonly analysed.
Google has filed patents describing how clickthrough rate and other behavioural signals can affect SERPs. The company insists these factors are too noisy and unreliable.
SEO experts disagree, but their evidence is anecdotal.
Here’s our take:
Google’s methods for measuring user satisfaction are unknown. Instead of chasing metrics like dwell time, focus on visitor experience.
Eight steps summarise everything above:
Check your site on all devices.
Keep visitors happy and reduce distractions.
Accurately answer visitors’ questions.
Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades; specialize.
Get backlinks from other sites.
Keep content updated (where needed).
Fast and secure.
New advice? Tempting?
That’s the point.
Google ranking isn’t about the latest tricks and buzzwords. It’s about creating content searchers want, providing a good user experience, and proving to Google that it’s the best result.