Google’s Top 50 Ranking Factors for Organic SEO

Google’s Top 50 Ranking Factors

Google’s algorithm has more than 200 different ranking factors. We have authenticated some of these factors. Others are controversial. Some are mere speculation. We’ve listed the top 50 factors here. Please note that this changes over time because Google and Bing are always updating their algorithms. The list below is not ranked in any order and is just a regular list of the most important ranking factors:

1. Domain Age

According to Google’s Matt Cutts, “The difference between a domain that’s six months old versus one-year-old is really not that big at all.” (Matt Cutts, Google). Google, therefore, uses domain age, but it’s just not that important. Older, established domains tend to rank faster than new ones.

2. Length of Time You Register Domain For

Google says businesses often pay in advance to register legitimate domains for many years. Illegitimate domains are rarely in use beyond one year. Google thus uses the expiration date of the domain to help determine its legitimacy.

3. Domain Name

The top-level domain (TLD) you book is critical. Choose .edu, .com, .net, etc. if you wish to reach out to a global audience. In the case of region- or country-specific sites choose TLDs such as .eu, .uk, and .aus. These TLDs will give you an increase in local search results.

4. Google “dwell time”

Dwell time is as described by Duane Forrest, Senior manager of Bing “Your goal should be that when a visitor lands on your page, the content answers all of their needs, encouraging their next action to remain with you. If your content does not encourage them to remain with you, they will leave. The search engines can get a sense of this by watching the dwell time”. In other words, dwell time is the time spend on your page, till the visitors go back to the SERP’s.

Dwell time Vs. Bounce rate Vs. Time on page:

  • Dwell time
    The amount of time spend by any user from clicking on the search result in Google or Bing, and then returning back to the SERP’s (the higher dwell time aka the more time spend on the page until they’re going back to SERP’s, the better and the higher ranking)
  • Bounce rate
    The % rate of visitors who bounce back after the first page. Example, if you visit 1 page on a website from a link or search result and doesn’t go any further on that website (subpages, shopmenu etc), then you make a bounce. The lower bounce rate, the better, which gives you better signals to Google, because users visit more than 1 page.
  • Time on page
    Any amount of time spend on site, before visiting any other pages or going back to the SERP’s, almost the same as dwell time, the difference is just that time on page, also can lead to visiting other pages on the website and not bouncing back.

5. Subdomain Names

Subdomains with a primary keyword have a much better chance of success on the search engine. Use your target keyword in the URL if you’re creating a separate action in the website or a microsite.

6. Exact Match Domain

Exact match domains, or EMDs, are those that match the exact search query. These differ from domains, such as onlinelearning.com, with a search term for which it hopes to rank. Companies use EMDs as a shortcut to higher rankings. Google recently updated its algorithms, and low-quality sites are no longer rated. An EMD can still give you an edge if you have a high-quality website.

7. Keyword in the Title Tag

Your page title is among the first things Google looks at when it ranks your website. Your keyword should be in the first part of the title tag.

8. Title Tag Starts with a Keyword

Title tags beginning with a keyword often do better than those with a keyword at the tag’s end.

9. Keyword as First Word in Domain

A domain that starts with a target keyword has an edge over other websites.

10. Keyword in Subdomain

According to the experts at moz.com, if your keyword appears in the subdomain, it can improve rankings.

11. Keyword in the Meta Description

Placing the keyword in your Meta description, like in your title tag, is a critical step to follow. Having a non-targeted Meta description will affect your Click Through Rate. Your Click Through Rate affects your rankings. Google does not use the keyword in the Meta description as a primary ranking factor. Make sure you include a variation of your keyword in your Meta description.

12. Keyword in H1 Tag

Your H1 tag is your description of your page content. It is another relevance factor. It is still a good habit to enter your keyword in a unique H1 tag on a page. Do this despite the current debate about its importance.

13. Keyword in H2 and H3 Tags

Having your keyword show as a subhead in H2 or H3 layout may be another weak relevancy signal. John Mueller of Google says, “These heading tags in HTML help us to understand the structure of the page.”

14. Keywords in Your Page Copy

Stuffing your page with keywords used to be a guaranteed way to increase its rankings. That’s not the case anymore. When you use the keyword in the copy, it still sends a relevancy indicator of what the content is about.

15. Keywords in Anchor Text

Anchor text is still a significant ranking signal. Web pages ranking No. 1 had an average of 5.42 percent of their anchor text including their target keyword. This percentage is higher the further up Page 1 you look.

16. Competitors’ Keywords

One of the best tactics in the SEO world is to look at your rivals for some inspiration. You can use software such as Rank Tracker. This new research method reveals your competitors’ keywords. Rank Tracker also has a keyword research module that can help you come up with ideas of your own.

17. Latent Semantic Indexing of Content (LSI)

An LSI keyword helps search engines make sense of words with multiple definitions. An example is “Banana Republic.” LSI keywords will help Google determine whether you’re talking about the clothing company. (You could also be referring to an unstable country that depends on one main export).

18. LSI Keywords in Title and Description Tags

Meta tags with LSI keywords also help Google decipher words with several meanings. It can also signal relevancy.

19. Quality Content

Content is still the king of the SEO world: we’re sure you’re aware of that. The idea is that Google will spot and reward content that helps consumers. But, a lot goes into creating quality content. We already mentioned keyword stuffing. Writing thin material that has little or no value to users. Likewise, scraping content is another cardinal sin in content creation.

20. Content Length

The optimal word count for an article varies per subject, and there is no rule of thumb about it. We do observe, though, that lengthier content tends to achieve higher rankings. Neil Patel shows a correlation between top Google search positions and content length.

21. Content Relevance

Search engines will reward the most relevant website when all other things are equal. When we look for shoes, for example, we see results like Zappos, Shoes.com, and 6 PM. When we change the query to high heel shoes, we now see several websites that specialize in ladies’ shoes. And when we turn once more to high heel evening shoes, we now observe a seller of evening shoes rise to No. 1 position. The more you can focus your website on a particular topic, the better it will rank for that topic.

22. Content Recency

For time-sensitive searches, the Google’s “Caffeine” update promotes content that you published or updated recently. The search engine displays the date of the last update of individual pages, which underlines the weight of this factor.

23. Magnitude of Content Updates

The extent of your changes and edits also helps to freshen your content. For example, adding whole segments is more meaningful than correcting a typo.

24. Historical Page Updates

The frequency with which you update your page also plays a part in its freshness.

25. Mobile-Friendliness

Google’s “Mobile-geddon” update favored pages made for mobile devices. Google’s “Mobile-First Index” promotes websites that mobile users find easy to navigate.

26. Hidden Content on Mobile

Google may not index hidden content on mobile devices vs. visible content. Google said in one of its videos that you could hide content without being penalized. But, that same video says, “…if it’s critical content, it should be visible…”

27. Duplicate Content

Identical content on the same site can affect search engine visibility.

28. Rel=Canonical

Correct use of this tag may stop Google from penalizing your site for duplicate content.

29. Table of Contents

Using a linked table of contents can help Google better understand your page content. It can also result in site links.

30. Length of Page Title

Top ranking web pages often have shorter page titles, with the sweet spot being eight words in length.

31. Existence/Quality of Verified Business Info

The local pack, voice search, the Knowledge Graph and Google Maps drive traffic. This traffic relies on the correctness of the info you feed to Google. You should clean and own your data across the web. Location data and WikiData are essential. Also, they don’t need approval from compliance or development resource.

32. Loading Speed

This one is a half myth and half-truth. You load speed doesn’t matter in your ranking if your web pages take less than 20-30 seconds to load. You lose most visitor’s interest if your loading time is more than 6 seconds. The Google ranking penalty is the least of your problems.

33. User Signals

A 2017 study by SEMRush looked at various user signals, including bounce rate. The bounce rate refers to when the user visits the landing page without browsing any further. The bounce rate for the top three positions in the SERPs is low but gets higher as you go down. This progression happens because that top-ranking sites have enhanced site speed. They also have more relevant content, higher user trust, etcetera.

34. User Experience

User experience is one of the haziest ranking signals of all. It overlaps with several other signs, and it’s awkward to define. Search functionality, compatibility with different devices, and 404 errors are indicators for usability.

35. Helpful Supplementary Content

Helpful supplementary content shows a page’s quality. Loan interest calculators, currency converters, and interactive recipes as well as pictures, infographics or even videos are some examples.

36. Click Through Rate

Click through rate (CTR) is the ratio between clicks and impressions in the search results. The following factors affect CTR:
• Relevance of URL, title, and description for the query
• Brand recognition

37. URL Length

Keeping URLs short and sweet is best practice. Longer URLs may hurt the search engine ranking of your site.

38. URL Path

Pages located close to the homepage might enjoy a higher ranking. This could be related to URL length, as these pages usually have shorter URL names than their sub-pages.

39. URL Accessibility

Google’s bots should be able to reach and crawl your URL with ease. Google has to be able to visit the URL and look at the page content to start to understand what the page is about. To help the bots out, you’ll need a sitemap, which lists all your pages. You’ll also need a robots.txt file that tells Google where it can and can’t look for your site information.

40. URLs with Underscores vs. Hyphens

Google sees words separated by an underscore as joined together. On the other hand, the search engine considers the hyphen to be a separator. Google’s Matt Cutts explains in this video.

41. Website Visits

The SEMRush study shows that there is a link between page rankings and number of website visits. If the page has a lot of visits it could be an indication of its authority.

42. Backlinks

Backlinks remain one of the most reliable ranking signals in Google’s algorithms. Your chances of ranking for top keywords improve with links to high-authority domains. Google’s “Penguin 4.0” update filtered sites with low-quality backlink profiles. Online marketers should thus pay close attention to their current backlink profiles.

43. Link Relevance and Diversity

You want your links to come from pages with topics like that of the page you’re optimizing. There’s a connection between the concepts of diversity and of relevance. Your backlinks should relate to your page topic. You should be aware that if too many of your anchor texts are alike, Google can hit you with its Penguin penalty.

44. Brand Awareness

Google algorithm changes support a shift towards branding. Moz recommends that 17 percent of your anchor text should be brand names. Avoid building links to boost your organic rankings. Instead, create links that will improve your brand and relevance online.

45. Website Security (HTTPS)

Sixty-five percent of domains for the top three Very High Volume keywords are secure. HTTPS is not a huge ranking factor, but it helps you win conversions, and it builds trust.

46. Freshness

After relevance, fresh results are the top goal of search engines. For example, the query “Bitcoin” is sensitive to the news these days. That wasn’t the case two years ago.

Credit: www.kevin-indig.com
“Freshness” in search results gained some momentum in 2010. That was the year Google initiated its new indexing system “Caffeine.”

47. Query Deserves Freshness (QDF)

Former Head of Search at Google Amit Signal was talking about QDF since 2007. “The QDF revolves around determining whether a topic is ‘hot.’” It ranks newer content higher in the SERPs. It also shows more news integrations in the SERPs as a result.

48. Social signals

Social signals are basically all signals, engagement and traffic from social media (facebook, instagram, google plus, twitter, pinterest etc). Engagement is likes, shares, comments etc on post, video, photo etc.

49. Image Optimization

Pay attention to the alt text, file name, title, description, and caption of your image. These factors can send essential relevancy signals to search engines. Make sure of all these are unique, and correct in terms of naming. Example, if you insert a picture of a fish in your blog post, make sure to name it “fish” or “small blue fish” instead of something random made by wordpress like “238ghskje” or something totally unrelated like “chair“.

50. Grammar and Spelling

Google has given mixed messages on whether grammar and spelling were significant. But, it is an indicator of quality.

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