In this post Google Ranking Factors – Which Ones Are The Most Important?, I’m going to take you through the most important Google ranking factors so you stay focused on the things that matter the most.
Google uses hundreds of ranking signals and tweaks its algorithm 500 or so times per year, but many of these Google ranking factors are so minor, no one even notices
That’s not to say that they’re not important, but the average person doing SEO for their local business website really doesn’t need to worry about most of them (And if you did, you’d go crazy!).
The first and most important ranking factor is quality backlinks. Backlinks form the basis of PageRank, which is the foundation of Google’s ranking algorithm. They mention it on their “how search works” page, they’ve tweeted about it, and independent studies confirm the relationship between backlinks and organic traffic.
But not all backlinks are created equal, as there’s a lot of factors that contribute to a backlinks ability to push a page higher in the search engine results pages. And the two most important are relevance and authority.
The next ranking signal is freshness, which is a query-dependent ranking factor, meaning it’s more important for some queries than it is for others.
For example, a query like “bitcoin news” has super-fresh results, because people want information on current news, not something that happened two years ago.
But freshness isn’t limited to just news topics. If we look at Google’s results pages for the query “best microphones,” you’ll see that all of the top-ranking pages have the current year in the title, and that’s because people don’t want to know about the best headphones from a few years ago.
Technology is always advancing and there are always new models coming out, but for a query like, “how to make a Victorian sponge cake”, freshness isn’t as important since nothing has really changed.
So for queries that require freshness, keep your content regularly up to date.
The next Google ranking factor is search intent. While backlinks are arguably the most important ranking factor, search intent is likely the most overlooked.
Search intent represents the reason behind a searcher’s query, so when someone searches for “how to make lemon cheesecake,” they want to find a recipe. When they search for “best microphones,” they want to see a selection of different headphones that are currently available.
And the way we determine search intent is by looking at the top-ranking pages and identifying the three C’s of search intent:
 The first C is content type. So are the top pages mostly blog posts, product, category, or landing pages? For “best microphones” they’re blog posts.
 The second C is content format. So are most of the top pages how-to’s, tutorials, articles or comparison lists? For “best microphones” they’re comparison lists, which makes sense because the word “best” implies that comparisons need to be made.
 Final C is content angle, and this is the most dominant USP that the top-ranking pages are using. For the query “best microphones” it looks like they’re going with the “freshness” USP by including the current year in the titles.
Of all the three C’s, content type and content format are absolutely critical to match, or you’ll be hard-pressed to rank high for any meaningful query.
Another Google ranking factor is the topical authority of the website. Google wants to rank pages from authoritative sources and this goes way beyond backlinks.
For example, if we looked at the Google search results for “how to unblock your sink”. you’ll find a site that’s outranking websites with many more referring domains.
I’m guessing that’s because it’s a page that comes from a plumbing website so has more authority on that subject, but there are more clues to help us see if I’m right:
 Google’s search quality guidelines mention something called E-A-T, which stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, I don’t believe it’s possible for a website to demonstrate all three qualities on every topic.
 The second point of support for topical authority is in Google’s SEO starter guide, which says “cultivate a reputation for expertise and trustworthiness in a specific area.”
 Pages on websites that are focused on one particular topic will have more internal links from pages about similar things. And not only do internal links help increase “authority” but they also help Google understand what the pages are about.
 Finally, there’s evidence to suggest that the perceived authoritativeness of a site is query-dependant in this Google patent.
Onto one of the next Google ranking factors, which is content depth. Depth is all about hitting the talking points of a topic that searchers want and expect to see. For example, if we look at the Google search results for “best android phones,” you’ll find that search intent shows us that we need to create a list comparison blog post specifically about high-end Android phones.
But this doesn’t tell us what’s important from a content perspective other than the fact that we should be talking about Samsung instead of Xiaomi, so in order to figure that out, you need to actually visit the top-ranking pages and look for similarities between the content.
And if you look at the top-ranking pages, you’ll find that they’ll all mention something about price. They all mention popular brands like Samsung and Huawei. And they all talk about technical specifications.
So this shows that if you want to rank for this search phrase, you probably want to talk about these things as well. It’s not about limiting your creativity or copying others, but since Google is ranking similar pages at the top, it’s telling us what they want to see.
And since Google’s main job is to deliver the most relevant results for any given query, it’s probably what the searcher wants to see too.
Another way you can find talking points is to look at the ‘People Also Ask’ box in the search results, as well as the related searches at the bottom of the page.
Next up in our Google ranking factors list, is our old friend Page Speed. Page Speed has been a known ranking factor since 2010, and while a lot of people obsess over improving their site speed by fractions of a second, from an SEO perspective, it doesn’t really matter much for most sites. In fact, Google said: “The speed update will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries.”
So bottom line: improve your page speed so it’s not super-slow, but you don’t need to get too obsessed about it. You just don’t want people to bounce because your page takes forever to load.
What’s more important about page speed is that if visitors won’t wait for your page to load, they won’t see your content, contact you, or purchase anything from your site.
Check out my blog post on how to speed up your wordpress site if you want any help with that.
Next up is the HTTPS Google ranking factor and to make sure your site is secure and using the HTTPS protocol. In 2014, Google announced HTTPS as a very lightweight signal affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and while using HTTPS probably won’t make a huge impact on your site’s rankings, it’s a quick win that you can do in under 5 minutes, and maybe the thing that nudges you ahead of your competitor.
Finally, the last of these Google ranking factors is a big one and that’s good old user experience. Google wants to rank content that offers visitors a positive experience, because if people are finding good results from their search engine, then they’ll keep using it. So the absolute basics would be to try and keep visitors on your site for as long as possible without any kind of trickery.
To do this, create easy-to-read content, a well-organised site, easy to navigate, responsive design, and go easy on the ads and pop-ups. Basically, you want to have a site that’s designed around the users’ needs first.
Now in terms of the way they measure user satisfaction, there is no definitive proof of what Google uses in their ranking algorithm. But if we look at a particular patent from Google, they describe how clickthrough rate and other behavioural signals could be used to influence search engine rankings.
And while Google remains adamant that these factors are too unreliable, SEOs have tried experiments finding CTR to be effective in higher rankings.
So the key takeaway here when it comes to Google ranking factors is instead of obsessing over certain technical metrics, focus on creating excellent content and an overall positive experience for your visitors.
So was any of this advice here new or exciting? Nope, but that’s kind of the point, and why we never freak out about the latest Google algorithm updates (in fact we look forward to them because it means sites using spammy black hat hacks to beat Google normally get clobbered).
Ranking high in Google is rarely about the latest tips, algorithm updates, or buzzwords. It’s about doing the same solid basic SEO that always gets the best results and creating content that searchers are looking for, providing a great user experience and proving to Google your site is an authority on your subject so that it trusts you.
Trust and authority. That’s really what SEO is all about, not the hundreds of Google ranking factors. And remembering that you never have to beat Google, you just have to do a little better than the business that is at the top of the search results 🙂
If you’re also looking to rank your business in the Google Map Pack, make sure to check out our Local SEO Checklist to help get you to the top.
Check out my next blog post where I look at the most underrated SEO strategy of all: Internal Linking For SEO
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Pete Skuse (The SEO Guy)
Plymouth SEO Services – Let’s put your website to work for your business