Guide to the 200 ranking factors on Google
On our articles we often talked about the ranking factors used by Google, key element to whoever approaches SEO activities or, simply, is going to work online. Therefore, it is now time to compile a a true and proper guide to the 200 ranking factors on Google, a.k.a the (over) two hundred signals, parameters and indicators that the huge Google algorithm takes into account in order to sort out its own SERPs and to provide result pages to each and every query launched by users, and that hence stand out as crucial element to whoever does SEO on Google. We are going to go through the complete list of ranking signals, distinguishing the official ones, the assumed ones, the talked about ones and so on, affecting every aspect of the website and its pages.
SEO factors, guide to Google and its algorithm
Before we begin to discover these ranking factors, let’s face another sensitive topic first, like the actual way to work of Google’s algorithm, which determines the success (or failure) of a web site or SEO strategy. A system that, in major part, still is quite mysterious even to the wide number of people and professionists that use it everyday, and that often sparked some mild conspiracy theories.
Meaning of ranking and Google’s explanation
In order to discover some more official details, we are going to borrow the words of the most influential voice out there, such as the one belonging to the Mountain View’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, and his intervention during the hearing at the US Congress at the end of 2018, where he was questioned about his company, the privacy issue and a series of several other questions, including the most famous “why is that when searching for idiot on Google it shows a whole lot of Donal Trump pictures?”.
How many ranking factors used by Google for SEO there are
Pichai explained that currently Google provides answers in a way that, every time a user types in a keyword, the system immediately answers by summoning “crawled and stored copies of billions of web pages in our index”; in a matter of instants it takes the keyword, establishes a connection with indexed pages and sorts out a classification based on over 200 signals that determine the final rank of a site. Among these signals (or factors), the CEO mentioned “relevance, freshness, popularity, how other people are using it”.
Google SEO Ranking, the algorithm is a complex machine that evolves every day
Sundar Pichai also added that, to be sure that the process works, Google “at any given time, tries to rank and find the best results for that query” and then evaluates them through external quality raters, which in turn act following objective guidelines, without Googlers or any other person intervening in any particular search result. In 2017 alone, Google’s CEO says again, more than 3 trillion searches were answered, and “every day 15 percent of the beaches Google sees, we have never seen before,” i.e., they are unseen queries that the algorithm nonetheless tries to answer as best it can, thanks in part to its continuous evolutions at the interpretive level, which increasingly leverage advanced Artificial Intelligence systems, neural networks and Machine Learning applied precisely to Search.
According to more recent statistics (Internet Live Stats, 2023), Google processes nearly 100 thousand searches every single second, and thus over 8.5 billion searches per day and over 3.1 trillion on an annual basis.
The 200 ranking factors used by Google: 9 main areas
In short, Pichai has resorted to the now-strange expression in search marketing – 200 ranking factors is repeated again and again, even without actual knowledge of the number of these signals – and has mentioned three or four signals that thus become “official,” adding to the other sure and proven ones that Google’s public voices have repeatedly talked about.
Yet, as we were saying, the full list of ranking factors includes so many items and parameters that are actually more controversial, which in some cases might be just SEO Nerd speculation (to use a terminology dear to Backlinko, who in past years made an infographic on this topic that we will use as the basis for this our “SEO Google guide“, updated in light of new developments) and others about which we lack precise cognition.
However, we have decided to list them all below, grouped into nine main categories related to specific areas of interest and action and indicated with an increasing number that, however, has no relation to specific weight for ranking.
- Domain Factors.
- Page-Level Factors.
- Site-Level Factors.
- Backlink Factors.
- User Interaction.
- Special Google Algorithm Rules.
- Brand Signals.
- On-Site Webspam Factors.
- Off-Site Webspam Factors.
Domain’s ranking factors
Let’s start with the list of domain’s ranking factors, that seem to have a relative value on the actual ranking of the site and its pages.
- Domain Age. Google uses the info on the domain’s age (how long it is been active online), but it does not seem to be one of the main factors in order to rank.
- Keyword appearance in Top Level Domain. In this case as well, the influence of this factor is decreased, but it can still act as a relevancy signal relative to a keyword or specific topic.
- Keyword used as first word in the domain. The actual position of the keyword within the domain name seems to have bigger impact on ranking, compared to competitors that do not own this keyword in the domain at all or simply use it in different positions, but in reality its weight is minimal if not completely equal to zero.
- Keyword in subdomain. Some SEO analysts also identify as ranking factor the use of keywords in the subdomain, but what was written above applies: minimal if any effect.
- Metrics of domain analysis. We wrote about it in January: John Mueller revealed that Google too uses domain metrics to rank sites , that at the beginning also impact on new contents and new web pages (mostly if it already matched Big G’s appreciation).
- EMD, exact match of the keyword. This is another factor that slightly lost power over time: the exact match domain (the precise match between domain name and keyword one wanted to compete and rank for) should not be a possible element of advantage over opponents, although this technique still persists.
- Information on who is registering the domain. Google could positively evaluate the choice of leaving the site owner’s data public; on the contrary, if those data are unavailable it could be interpreted as a suspicious element.
- Penalized site owner. The memory of the algorithm includes all of the other properties of a site owner: if he has been previously penalized for spamming, it is probable that his other sites would be under scrutiny as well.
- Country Code in domain. Gary Illyes also explained it: to choose a first level domain with an extension reporting the specific country code for its belonging geographic territory (or the territory where the business is actually working) could generate a positive effect, because remarks that “this domain is more relevant to people living in that specific Country” and it hence could “receive more aimed traffic” by Google (even if this kind of choice could affect the site’s ability to rank on a global scale).
- Registration length. An old Google patent (dating back to 2005!) mentioned as reliability signal to the algorithm the domain’s registration length: farther the expiration date, higher the legitimacy and safety level Google can foresee for that site (based on the notion that illegitimate or doorway sites are often born and deleted in a matter of few months).
- History of the domain. The past history of a site (if, for instance, it was registered by multiple people, if it experienced several drops or faced a penalty during those phases) impacts on its ranking, because it could lead Google to completely reset each connection aiming towards the domain or to penalize its new (latest) owner.
Page’s ranking factors
Much longer is the list of Google ranking factors that are related to the characteristics of a site’s pages and those of their content, which are part of the broad activity of on-page SEO optimization: for some time now we have known that quality remains the keyword, the goal to strive for in order to increase the chances of better ranking articles, and since 2022 the adjective useful has also been added; as this list makes clear, however, there are also numerous and relevant technical references that a webmaster, SEO consultant, copywriter or anyone who manages this online activity cannot overlook. The bottom line, however, remains the need to understand and intercept the user’s search intent, providing content that can comprehensively and comprehensively address the need that led them to use Google in the first instance. Added to this is also the respect for user experience and the need to serve pages quickly and efficiently, as also required by the (official!) Page Experience factor.
- E-E-A-T. Google’s EEAT framework evaluates experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness of the content creator (and the whole site): it may not be a ranking factor per se, but Google is certainly paying more and more attention to pages that demonstrate these factors, which then somehow enter into the algorithmic calculation and evaluations.
- Keyword in the Title Tag. Another element that lost importance with the latest algorithm’s updates, the title tag still is a quite important signal for page optimization, albeit “subtle,” because it allows Googlebot and readers to get a prior idea of what awaits them on the page.
- Keyword at the beginning of the Title Tag. To use a keyword as first word of title tags could bring some benefits to ranking compared to titles where the keyword is placed towards the end.
- Keyword in Meta Description. We know that Google does not directly use the meta description tag as SEO ranking factor, but at the same time has been remarked and confirmed the influence that brief description can have on CTR, the percentage value of a click, which in turn could be a ranking factor (or, at least, an indicator of better relevance of the content to the user’s query).
- Keyword in the H1. Even if they often overlap, there is difference between title tag and H1: the former is an external element to the page navigation (meaning it is the piece of info that identifies each web page and HTML document), while the latter is a “second title”, an element of text format of that specific content. As previously said, Google looks at the H1 tag as a secondary signal of relevance.
- Keyword density. It was one of the most abused factors by SEO specialists in the past, with the recurring keyword stuffing and the massive repetition of the keyword in each and every paragraph of the article: today keyword density has lost its value, but still remains a potential competing element for ranking, at least as a rough indication of the appropriate way to use keywords in content.
- Keyword prominence. The prominence of the keyword is a potential element correlated to ranking: this means that the use of a keyword in sensitive areas of the page has its own specific relevance. In particular, a page can be called optimized if this keyword appears among the first 100 words used, or if it included at the beginning of the title, heading tags or meta description.
- Keyword in heading tags. Correctly typing the keyword inside HTML heading tags such as H2, H3 and so on could be a (mild) relevance signal to search engines, because Google uses these tags to interpret the structure of the page.
- Using LSI Keywords in the content. With the expression LSI we refer to the “latent semantic indexing“, a technical-mathematical method that allows to indentify the existing relations within a document. From an SEO perspective, LSI keywords are the ones semantically connected to the primary keyword helping search engines to determine the specific context of the subject (even in the case of a word with multiple meanings), and also represent a potential factor of quality content. It is not limited to synonyms or grammatical variations of the keyword, but rather open to new keywords adding relevance to the page’s topic. In fact, Google has repeatedly made it clear that LSIs do not help ranking, even more so with the technological evolutions of algorithms, which are now capable of inferring context more accurately.
- Using LSI Keywords in Title tags and Description. Similar to the previous case, using correlated keywords in the page’s meta tags could probably be interpreted as a relevance signal by Google and help the distinction in the event of words with possible multiple meanings.
- Domain Authority. The authority and trust of a domain (one of the parameter included in our Zoom Authority) influence the ranking of a page compared to another, on equal conditions, because this factor has a weight to Google (that uses metrics both on site and page level in order to evaluate their authority and each page eventually benefit of some features of the general domain.
- PageRank. There is no direct correlation, but the pages having a higher PageRank and more links are generally better ranked than the ones without links or with low quality links.
- Quantity of ranked keywords. If a page succeed in ranking for multiple keywords, Google interprets this factor as an internal quality signal.
- Content length. Generally, it is believed that Google algorithm favors contents rich in words compared to the shorter and shallow ones (it was also one of our suggestions for SEO writing tools), given the fact that the formers can supply better info and answers to users, and indeed also from SEOZoom’s competitor analysis it can be highlighted a correlation between content length and SERP position. The use of more words could also increase the possibility to intercept the correct terms Google expects to see concerning the topic.
- Duplication of content. Quite simply, the presence of duplicate contents within the same site it is deemed to be a factor negatively influencing the ranking on the search engine.
- Duplicate Meta descriptions. Any kind of duplicate content can generate a penalty or poor web site and page performance: hence duplicate meta descriptions should be also avoided, focusing instead on the creation of original and unique texts. In order to check if the site shows such error it can be used both Google Search Console or SEOZoom analysis tools.
- HTML errors. To devote poor attention to the code and manage a site with lots of HTML errors can be a negative signal to Google, while on the contrary a clean and well-coded page is an element of reliability and quality.
- Size of the URLs. The excessive length of URLs can damage the visibility of a page on the search engine, and some studies report that short URLs are advantaged compared to the longer ones.
- Path of URLs. Pages with URLs closer to homepage tend to rank better compared to those pages buried deeper and hard to reach within the architecture of a site, hence should be better to favor shortened paths.
- Use of Tags. Tags as well, that are a specific WordPress relevance signal, can assist in enhancing SEO because relate contents to each other.
- Keyword in URL. It has a mild weight, but to enter the keyword inside the URL string still generates an element worth to be evaluated by Google, even because the Url is the first ever signal to show to Google.
- URL format. Similarly, the structure and composition of the URL can represent an indication on the referring page topic and for that be a positive element for ranking.
- Page priority in Sitemap. A potential influence on ranking can also arise from the priority assigned to a page through sitemap.xml.
- Page categories. Categories are the true pillars of the site architecture and a relevance signal for page ranking: a page fully in line with the category can gain better performances compared to the one archived in an unrelated category.
- Clarity of the text. The search engine also devotes its attention to the clarity of the content, using metrics assessing the readability level of the Web pages and that should suggest to write in a simple and clear way, favoring less complex syntactic constructions.
- Use of an index – Table of Contents. A page that includes an index of covered contents (also known as table of contents) can help Google to analyze and better interpret the page content, sometimes it is also displayed in the SERP sitelinks.
- Text with bullet points and lists. Google also assess the readability of a page: to use bullet points or lists, that split the text highlighting the topics, could make easier and better the access to readers, matching the favor of the search engine.
- Watch the grammar. To write good is not only a distinctive element of the ability of an SEO copywriter, but also a sign of potential trust that the site transmits to Google: to publish articles and pages with correct contents from a grammatical, spell-checking and syntactical point of view is an added value for ranking as well, even if it does not lack of special cases revealing totally different trends.
- Useful content. If quality is an adjective we often add to the word “content” during our SEO activity, both the utility of a page and the info provided to the reader as well can be a factor took into account by Google for the ranking. The international release of Helpful Content System, in 2022, has made this official, so usefulness is indeed a ranking factor at the page level.
- Uniqueness of content. Another easy-to-guess element: generally, it is an appreciated practice to only publish original contents of which we own every right (the so-called syndication). Whenever a text includes copied or duplicated parts of a page already indexed on search engines it could rank poorly or even not be indexed at all.
- Pages with further on-topic insights. The depth of topic coverage has a personal relevance to the article’s ranking: the pages that cover and deepen every angle of a topic, providing useful and detailed information, have better chance to rank compared to those only partially covering the subject.
- Content depth. If the content supplies a unique value, showing depth of thoughts, it can be considered as a cornerstone of page quality that can help ranking over the ong run. Even because Google itself often revealed to penalize those sites not bringing anything new or useful to the readers, thin affiliate sites in particular.
- Product Review Quality. A fairly recent introduction (it has been active in Italy since February 2023), the Product Reviews System is an algorithm that focuses on a very particular type of queries and content, “product reviews,” and serves to ensure that users interested in business-related searches find among the results provided by the search engine only (or mostly) content with product reviews that include in-depth and original research, rather than bare texts that simply summarize a range of products.
- Page age. An old but constantly updated page with refreshed contributions can rank better than a whole new one.
- Recent contents. Even a content’s publication date and following updates (the freshness) can be the kind of elements influencing ranking, primarily for topics sensitive to the time factor.
- Extent of the updates. A radical modification of a content, the add or removal of entire sections, is a bigger freshness factor than the correction of a typo or the add of few words: therefore, the extent (magnitude) of updates hence affects ranking.
- Updates frequency. Freshness also refers to the frequency with which a page has been updated over time.
- Frequency of the word within text. SEO experts think that Google uses a sophisticated TF-IDF system (a feature calculating the importance of a term inside the whole document) in order to measure how many time a specific word appears in a page. Higher the repetition percentage, higher the probability that the page concerns that word. SEOZoom also has a tool that calculates this value, although our advice is to use the data as an indicative track for keyword management, and not as an absolute reference of content optimization.
- Match with the entity. Concerning the search engine, entities are a list of elements associated to Google Knowledge Graph , making the actual knots of the graph and describing people, locations and things of the real world, allowing the user’s research to be more detailed. Whenever the page content exactly matches the entity the user was looking for, the page can benefit of an improving in ranking for that specific keyword.
- Google Hummingbird parameters. With the algorithmic update called Hummingbird (back on 2013), Google revolutioned its way to assess pages, overcoming the simple keywords listed in a text and pushing itself to better comprehend the topic of a web page and to interpret more and more effectively the user search intent.
- Rel = Canonical. Connected to the previous point: as Google explains, the correct use of the Rel = Canonical tag allows us to reinforce duplicated URLs and avoid penalties, given the fact that it indicates to the crawler which URL to scan in the event of a page accessible from multiple URLs or in the presence of different pages with similar or duplicated contents.
- Multimedial contents. The use of media such as images, videos and other multimedial elements can be a signal of quality content, because they offer an added value to the user.
- Images optimization. Often unfairly overlooked among SEO operations, images are a rather fundamental part of the page and send to search engines relevance signals through fields such as file name, alt text, title, description and caption, and thus image optimization for SEO is a crucial and well-defined activity that can bring concrete benefits.
- Useful additional contents. Since the document with the raters guidelines, Google began to deem useful additional contents as a signal of page quality and, by extent, of the ranking. Examples of contents offering additional services to users include currency converters, loan interest rate calculators or interactive recipes (with links to similar recipes, reviews or nutritional facts).
- Mobile optimization. To have both a site and pages correctly optimized for mobile devices stands as a plus in terms of potential ranking (and Google also supplies the mobile friendly test for that, a quick and easy tool to discover if we are actually complying with the parameters of mobile optimization). An user friendly site also responsive from mobile is a factor took into account for Google rankings, that can on the contrary penalize those website not paying that much attention and care to it.
- HTML loading speed. Speed is a ranking factor as well, mainly because of the increasing impact of mobile navigation, and generally a low page loading time means to enhance user experience and conversion rates.
- Google Page Experience. As of June 2021, Google officially launched the Page Experience System, an algorithm that evaluates as a ranking factor a number of technical elements that examine the performance of site pages with respect to the experience provided to users. Part of this complex system are Core Web Vitals, mobile friendliness, use of HTTPS protocol, and the absence of intrusive interstitial ads.
- Load speed on Chrome. In the perspective of speeding up the page loading time and better manage the user experience, Google also uses data provided by Chrome User Experience Report, meaning the data of those real users navigating a sitr through the Chrome browser, in order to measure and evaluate a page loading speed. Today we know that there are very specific parameters that Google examines and evaluates to check the performance of pages and how they satisfy users.
- Use of AMP. This another indirect ranking factor, but the AMP technology (Accelerated Mobile Pages) still represent an element possibly influencing ranking (through CTR), other than also standing as a benefit for ads campaigns (Google is using more and more AMP banners even on non-AMP pages), because it speeds up ads loading time and, more generally, of the pages. Today this system is completely superseded in fact by new technologies, which are far more efficient and effective.
- UX from mobile. As already reported during the launch of the mobile first index, Google takes into increasing consideration also the user experience guaranteed to whoever navigates the site on mobile mode, that has to be simple, fast and stable even when the network data coverage and connection are far from ideal.
- User Friendly page layout. Usability is been rewarded also regarding the page layout, that should make immediately visible the main content.
- To hide contents on mobile version. According to Google, the active choice to hide some specific contents to mobile navigation could not be that bad in terms of ranking. However, critical and main contents should always remain visible.
- Hidden contents in tab. If we choose to hide some contents in a page tab and make them only accessible with a click of the user, Google could not index those contents.
- Outbound Links. Not only inbounding connections: to effectively use outbound links (mainly towards authoritative and reliable sites or of insight for news and info) can contributes to send reliability and trust signals to Google, that interprets this elements as they were quoted sources of an academic paper.
- Topic of the outbound link. For quite some time now Google uses the Hilltop algorithm, a system evaluating a site or page level of authority on a specific subject; this method is also used to evaluate the content of the pages toward which outbound links are aimed, and for that the relevance of the referral is more important than ever also for contextualization.
- Number of outbound links. Page ranking could also be damaged by the presence of too much outbounding follow links, negatively influencing PageRank. Going too far is never a good thing, for Google: having too much outbound links from a page is been interpreted as a spam or poor quality of the content signal, because the overflowing of external references without the right proportion could worsen usability, overshadow the topic and distract readers from the subject.
- Use of external sources and resources. Another controversial case: among guidelines on quality, Google also highlights the use of quotes, references and external resources as sources (especially if influencial and certified) can be considered a positive elements for site reliability, but an impact on ranking has never been confirmed.
- Number of inbound links toward the page. The use of a good structure of inbound links is an important signal of site organization and also represent a way to signal Google the relevance of the page toward which lots of internal links point to (proportionally, more links it receives, the more value it takes).
- Quality of internal links. Not only quantity, Google also takes into account the quality of internal links, a.k.a the pages where connections start. For that, a link received from an authoritative page of the domain has a bigger impact compared to the one sent by a page with an inferior or no rank at all.
- Anchor texts of internal links. The anchor text used on internal links can be a ranking signal, albeit of limited scope compared to those anchor texts introducing a link from an external site.
- Presence of broken links. The presence of an excessive number of broken links on a page can be interpreted as sign of negligence of straight abandoned site, negatively influencing ranking.
- Affiliation links. On average, the presence of affiliation links has no negative effects on ranking, but if too numerous Google algorithm could decide to declassify the site, considering it as an “affiliate with no added value“.
- Role of the editors. It refers to an old Google patent, dating back to 2000 but still valid (and with an expiring date recently refreshed up until 2021), that reads among other things that supportive opinions from human editors could influence ranking on Google Search, but the actual use of this system is never really been confirmed.
- Parked domain. A parked domain, generally is a second level domain brought online but never used, which only has on the home page a simple curtesy message (such as “under construction”) or advertising messages (especially if it is a purchased expired domain, that in the past used to receive a lot of backlinks and for that still generating organic traffic). Since 2011, Google penalize the SERP visibility of these parked domains, progressively decreasing their authority.
Site’s ranking factors
The structure of the site, the care of each of its aspects, the ideal management of resources and contents are other important ranking factors to Google, that specifically evaluates a series of parameters focues on elements still tied to the on-page side.
- Site usability. There seems to be a directly proportional ratio between a site’s usability and its performance on Google Search. More specifically, a site that is hard to use and navigate can be penalized in terms of ranking (even because its values of permanency on site, viewed pages and bounce rate are worse) compared to the ones of a site with a simple and intuitive front-end for visitors.
- Site architecture. A well-organized structure, clean and well-coded, with a thematic architecture of contents, helps Google’s scanning and indexing and can bring benefits to the ranking.
- Presence of sitemap. To set up an HTML sitemap, helping and simplifying Googlebot’s page indexing, can improve ranking.
- Breadcrumb navigation. Using a Breadcrumb navigation menu can enhance site usability, allowing both users and search engines to better navigate among pages and categories and to easily comprehend their architecture and paths. It was clarified that Google Search uses markings of the breadcrumb kind in the body of a web page in order to catalogue the info received from the page.
- Site updates. It seems that Google does not like stillness, and for that any update and edit interventions on the site, not only on the contents side, could be a signal of freshness.
- TrustRank. Back in 2005 Google purchased TrustRank patent, an analysis technique used to assess the reliability of a page or its spam level through the analysis of various elements, the check of the truth of the info published on the site among them.
- Contact details page. To add a page with all the contacts and referrals of the owners or managers is considered one of the main local SEO ranking factors, because it allows users to know information like name, address and phone number of a close entity. It could be useful to verify that the contact info reported on the page match the one ones on whois.
- Geographic proximity to the user. Particularly for SERPs with “local” intent, Google may take the searcher’s geographic location into account when determining which results to show him or her as relevant, preferring precisely pages of brands or businesses closer to him or her. Although it is not possible to change the location of a business, brands can check that all information on site and other profiles (including location citations) is current and accurate.
- Site uptime. The uptime of a site indicates the period of time during which it has been constantly and correctly up and working: a healthy site, with high uptime, has better ranking opportunities because Google detects as potentially critical factors episodes like frequent malfunctions and server problems, that could also lead to a deindexing of the pages.
- Server location. The geographic position of the server can impact on ranking, mostly for geo-located researches and local SEO.
- HTTPS and SSL certificate. By now is not a secret anymore that the use of an SSL certificate for HTTPS safety protocol is a ranking factor to Google.
- Privacy pages and service terms. According to Google, properly adding the page concerning terms and conditions of the service as well as the privacy one allows to increase site reliability both for users and search engines.
- YouTube videos. Videos uploaded on YouTube (not casually, Google’s property) seems to have a fast track among SERPs of the search engine compared to the videos uploaded on other platforms: YouTube is then the site to favor for the uploading of a video, and a solid YouTube account can also be a relevant SEO signal.
- Use of Google Analytics and Google Search Console. There is a lack of precise indications about it (and, to be fair, they often talk about “false myth”), but some SEO theories push us to at least consider the use of tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console as potential ranking factor, come potenziale fattore di ranking, both because they improve the indexing of site pages, and because they provide Google with better and more detailed info (like, for instance, bounce rate or organic traffic generating from backlinks and so on).
- User reviews. User reviews and feedbacks, especially if published on sites deemed reliable like Yelp.com, can represent a potential element considered by Google algorithm for ranking.
Backlink’s ranking factors
Regardless of any algorithm update, evolution and change, links still remain the fundamental resource through which Google can do its job, scanning the Web and looking for the best results to provide to users performing a query. Many times over the latest years has been strongly remarked the importance of inbound links (also called backlinks) to rank on search engines, and also the link building keeps on standing as a pivotal element to a successful SEO strategy: through the references received by reliable sites, Googlebot understands that a specific site is considered trustworthy by other site owners/managers, and this will have a boosting impact on the linked pages and the site as a whole, that could achieve better results in ranking on SERPs.
- Domain authority. A link received by a site favored by Google and with a high level of authoritativeness (like the one indicated by our Zoom Authority) represent an important signal of esteem for search engine crawlers, that can have a bigger impact on ranking.
- Page authority. In a similar way, even the level of authoritativeness of the single page (like the one indicated by our Page Zoom Authority) sending a link is an important ranking factor: it is Google itself saying that in its webmaster guidelines, explaining that a link is like a vote from a page to another, and “the votes from pages already deemed important have a heavier weight and contribute in making the other pages important too”.
- Number of linking domains. Quantity counts: even if in a different way (and lighter impact) compared to the past, Google algorithm still considers as ranking factor the number of domains sending backlinks to a site.
- Number of linking pages. The total amount of other’s pages sending backlinks to a site has a relevance to Google.
- Age of the linking domain. A link received by an long-active site could be considered more authoritative compared to a reference provided by a newer domain.
- Age of the link. A working backlink already active from some time now could transmit higher relevance compared to a new and just published one, on equal other factors.
- Natural backlink profile. A site boasting a natural backlink profile (where it cannot be perceived a manipulative and forced intervention) could have better and more long-lasting results compared to a competitor blatantly using black hat strategies in order to gain links.
- Anchor texts of backlinks. As we know, anchor texts are used by Google to define the main topic of the linked page, and for that the presence of keywords within the anchor text can be useful to the linked site. According to some SEOs, though, compared to the past this element lost a bit of its relevance, but nevertheless remains an important ranking factor, while the abuse or over-optimization of anchor texts (especially if of the manipulative kind in sectors like YMYL) can be a webspam signal and lead to penalties.
- Link title. The link title attribute (meaning the message appearing when the mouse hovers over it) could represent a light ranking factor to Google.
- Keyword in title. Google seems to reward links coming from pages containing in the title the keyword of the linked site.
- Position of the link within content. The written part of the content (the body-copy or, simplier, the text) is also important to the backlink management: it is widely thought that the position the link has within the content could influence ranking. Specifically, if the link appears in the top part of the text will be read earlier, and for that Google crawlers could evaluate it better than a link in the bottom part of the text.
- Position of the link within the page. A link placed in the central content of the page has a heavier impact of the ones placed into the sidebar, footer or other position.
- Link to the Homepage. The outbound links redirecting on an homepage play a special role in a site evaluation.
- Nofollow links. As of 2020, nofollow attribute has changed from directive to advice: this means that Google may decide to convey authority to the page receiving such a link, although generally the rule applies that Google does not follow backlinks set in this way. Even in the latter case, however, getting links of this nature could be an important element in building a natural (or perceived as such by search engines) backlink profile.
- Contextualized links. Properly contextualized links in a page content are considered as more useful and relevant of the decontextualized ones.
- Link in the Alt Tag of images. To enter an image Tag Alt with a link to a resource can be a positive element for ranking, given the fact that it is interpreted as anchor text by search engines.
- Ad Links. Links in ads should be set in nofollow by default, but it is higly probable that the Google algorithm is actually able to identify and filter the ad links left as dofollow.
- Sponsored links and similar terms. A link conteined in an article marked as “sponsored link” or with similar terms, denoting an agreement behind the reference, could lose value in terms of impact in ranking.
- Links from sites with different C-Class IPs. The quantity and variety of domains with unique C-Class IPs sending backlinks to a site can be a valuable signal: first of all, it shows that those backlinks are coming from sources and sites external to the activity, and then that the provided info are considered useful, diverse and accessible. At the contrary, to receive many links from domains with identical C-Class IPs can be interpreted as a presence of PBN and bring penalties.
- Excess of redirect 301. The redirect 301 of a backlink is as similiar in value as a direct link, but it is recommended not to exceed with this technique, because it could dilute part of the equity and PageRank.
- Use of Schema.org. Pages that support microformats and use Schema.org markups can rank better compared to those that do not; it has never been clarified if there is any direct correlation or it depends on the fact that pages with microformat have a higher SERP CTR rate.
- TrustRank of the linking site. The level of reliability that Google thinks the linking site has determines the quantity of TrustRank transmitted with the backlink.
- Quantity of external links in the page. A page sending too many outbound links transmits less PageRank of a page using them wisely: this goes because the PageRank provided by a page is not infinite and splits on each connection.
- Count of words. A link sent by a page with thousand-words contents generally has a higher value compared to a reference entered in a 25-words article. Other SEO speculation that is based on the hypothetical value of word count.
- Quality of the content. Google also takes into account the quality of the content in which the outbound link is entered: the references existing inside poorly written or spinned articles worth less of the ones on quality contents.
- Sitewide links. Sitewide links, a.k.a those links contained in duplicated parts of the site like the footer or the sidebar, should not negatively affect the ranking, but they are still “compressed” and evaluated as a single link by Google.
- Positive link velocity. Sites showing a good link velocity (as the ability to gain more inbound links than the ones it has lost) can better rank on SERP given the fact that this rate indicates that a site is increasing its popularity.
- Negative link velocity. At the exact opposite side, a site with a negative link velocity (and then a negative balance between gained and lost links) risks a negative impact on ranking given the fact that it is considered as a mark of popularity decrease.
- Variety in sources. Gaining backlink from a single source (like comments on forums or blogs) and in unnatural quantity can be a signal of spam to Google, while instead receiving links from several sites and sources different in nature, typology and field of activity, indicates a natural backlink profile.
- Links from real sites. Google could have systems to distinguish backlinks provided by independent and real sites from the ones coming from fake blog or blog networks (also called splogs): given the fact that these last ones are so easy to create, the search engine algorithm could use systems such as brand evaluation and user interaction signals in order to rank the sites, assigning higher value to the backlinks coming from real sites.
- Links from sites with located extensions. Receiving backlinks from site having specific and located TLD extensions (like for instance .it, .co, .uk) could help a site in improving its ranking on that particular Country.
- Links from institutional sites. Up until a few years ago, to receive backlinks from institutional sites (with domain extensions such as .edu or .gov) was deemed as fundamental ranking factor: today is not like that anymore, but an inbound link from authoritative sites – recognized as such by Google as well – still is a signal of reliability for the website.
- Links from Authority Sites. Receiving a link from those Google considers “authority site” transmit a higher juice than those obtained from small and lesser known sites.
- Links among Wikipedia sources. Although being a nofollow link, many think that a backlink from Wikipedia represents a boost of trust and authority for a site in the eyes of the search engines.
- Link from competitor. Gaining links from a site competing on our same SERP and keywords is a valuable signal of reliability to rank on Google.
- Link from relevant domain. Receiving a backlink from a site pertaining topics (meaning covering our same subjects or kindred topics) and that belongs to our same niche represent a significant ranking factor and is more valuable than a link received by a completely uncorrelated site.
- Link from relevant pages. In the same way, also receiving a link from a correlated and in-topic page transmits higher value.
- Link from “expected” sites. According to some SEO speculations, Google could not completely trust a site that does not receive any link from expected and famous sites in its own belonging field.
- Guest posts. The use of the guest post strategy (meaning to host on a site a content written by an expert, then linking to his original site) probably does not have the same weight it had before in terms of ranking, but still represent an element that can help it. Generally, it is not recommendable to use it as the sole method of link building, even because it transmits too little link juice and, id performed on a broader scale, can cause problems or penalizations to the site.
- Toxic Links. Links could also have detrimental effects on ranking, in particular if they are coming from Bad Neighborhoods, a.k.a those low quality, vvero siti di bassa qualità, cheap, sketchy sites, already penalized in the past and easily recognizable as spammer. If a site receives a backlink from these dangerous sources, it could be useful to proceed with a disavow link on Google.
- Link from top resources. Still according to the Hilltop algorithm, having links from pages deemed as top resources on a specific topic generates a “special treatment” to the site.
- Close terms. The co-occurencies (meaning the words semantically close to those contained in the anchor text and appearing into the sentences tied to the link) can help Google contextualize the reference and are also needed to the users to understand the goal of each link, so to decide with better knowledge whether to follow it or not.
- Reciprocal Links. As already mentioned, Google discourages exchanges of reciprocal links between two sites openly intended to unnaturally increase PageRank.
- Links from contents generated by users. Google algorithm is able to distinguish UGCs (user generated content) from the ones published by the real owners of the site. The most common example is the one about sites hosted on WordPress that have open post comment sections or that of the forums. To disallow a link placed by a user over whom there is no control, one must use the rel=UGC attribute, which tells Google the precise nature of the link, which may then lose value in terms of strength for ranking.
- Links from 301. Rectify the destination od an inbound link and correctly using a redirect 301 toward a new resource could not change much in terms of ranking compared to direct links.
- Links from forums. Google evaluates not that posiitively forum links because in the past they have been frequently used for spam or black hat strategies.
Ranking factors tied to user interaction
By now, everyone knows that Google uses systems of Artificial intelligence in order to manage both the ranking and classification of pages on SERPs: this is one of the functions of the RankBrain, the machine learning technology able to sort out “billions of note pages and detect the most relevant ones for each search query”. But the algorithm also takes into account other parameters based on user experience and interaction with the site and the single page, trying to understand and assess people’s behaviour when landing on query results on Google.
- RankBrain. As previously mentioned, RankBrain is a ranking factor helping Google to understand and better interpret the query based precisely on the user interactions, so to classify the most pertaining pages for the request expressed by the user. Furthermore, it is also useful to predict what a user could click on whenever performing an unprecedented query.
- Organic CTR per keyword. CTR (click through rate) is one of the most controversial Google factors, as we also recounted from our blog; according to some SEOs, the pages collecting the most clicks could give a boost to the ranking on SERP of a specific keyword.
- Organic CTR of the site. Despite Google’s claimings, it is believed that the organic CTR of a site for all the keywords it is ranked with could be one of the main signals of user interaction.
- Bounce Rate. According to some SEO theories, Google algorithm would reward pages with a low bounce rate (the frequency with which a user only visits the site page he landed on without going further with the navigation and permanency). This happens because pages with a high rebound frequency could not be the best results for that keyword or the perfect match for the user search intent.
- Pogo Sticking. Is a specific typology of rebound, and a particularly negative one: it is about the behaviour of a user landing on a site ranked on the SERP but then goes back to Google’s results page to browse other SERP results because not satisfied. It is deemed as a poor quality traffic signal and could cause loss in ranking for those keywords.
- Dwell Time. Dwell time could be an SEO signal to consider: the expression refers to the time length of an user’s permanency on a web page to which was aimed by a Google SERP before going back to the results page itself. A high dwell time (thanks both to the contents provided and the internal links of insight) means that the user values with quality and interest the page, and so the algorithm as well will look positively at the site.
- Direct traffic. There could be a correlation between traffic directly acquired from sites and evaluation of the search engine, especially if the visitors used Google Chrome; it has in fact been clarified that Google algorithm uses browser data to determine the number and frequency of people visiting the site.
- Back traffic. A site is deemed valid and of good quality if able to attract back traffic, a.k.a if stimulates users to come back on its pages for other sessions.
- Favourites on Chrome. Google algorithm collect different data through Chrome browser and could use as ranking factor the insertion of the pages among personal bookmarks (the so-called favourites).
- Number of comments. In the perspective of evaluating the users’ interaction with the site and quality of the contents, the number of comments could be a significative factor in order to rank.
Google algorithm’s special rules
Over the years, SEOs analyzed some special and specific behaviours of the search engine’s algorithm, then producing the following Google ranking factors list indeed tied to a set of rules valid for Mountain View’s system and not strictly correlated to technical SEO elements or contents production. In many cases, the effect is the activation of a specific SERP feature, which provides a notable visibility position for the page (which only sometimes, however, actually translates into clicks and increased traffic).
- Query freshness. The query deserves freshness, according to analysts: to some researches, Google could favor new pages and contents compared to older ones. This is what the so-called QDF algorithm evaluates, which precisely analyzes the level of freshness of results in SERPs.
- Featured snippets. As we know, featured snippets or Position Zeros are contents highlighted by Google right before the classic SERP and selected on a combination of elements including length, layoute, page authority and use of HTTPS protocol.
- Mixed SERP. For ambiguous queries or multiple intents, Google could prefer an intermediate solution, providing a mixed SERP including pages that answer the different possible meanings of the terms.
- Safe Search. Sites publishing articles with “curse words” or with adult contents do not appear amore the results of those users that activated Safe Search mode.
- Copyright complaints. Google penalize the pages that received complaints on the copyright of contents or resources.
- Domains diversity. For some SERPs, Google favors the presence of different domains for relevance sake rather than only showing result by single domains. This behavior is managed by the “diversity system,” which tries to make sure that no site tends to have a dominant presence in the top results.
- Geographic targeting. Google could prioritize sites having a local IP address and a specific domain extension for the referring geographic area.
- Images. Some queries determine the display of a thumbnail for Google images.
- Local searches. Located results and Business Profile tabs often have priority on those SERPs the search engine deems as “local” (or for which it considers a located indication as the most suitable answer).
- Transactional searches. Google SERPs change depending on the users’ intent: in particular, transactional ones offer the ability to purchase the product directly, or have features that lead toward the purchase of services, as in the case of airline flights or hotel reservations.
- Shopping box. Transactional searches also generates a Google Shopping carousel introducing a series of products available on several eCommerce sites.
- Top Stories Box. Some queries (strictly informational) are triggers for the display of a box containing the main news of Google News, so to offer a preferential treatment to the newest updates on reports or “trend topics”.
- Navigational searches. Queires concerning a specific domain or brand generates multiple results of that same site.
- Brand power. The name and power of the brand are both privileged in ranking on Google, mainly for specific or navigational queries.
- Easter Egg. Google hides dozen easter eggs, small surprising tidbits that activate once performing a specific query.
- Navigations timeline. This is a factor influencing the personal display of the SERPs when we navigate from the same device or connected to a Google account: the sites we visit the most will rank better on new queries because the algorithm memorizes user preferences.
- Search history . Google keep tracks of the queries performed by the user as system of customization in order to optimize subsequent, results, hence offering more and more targeted answers to what he believes is the person’s search intent.
- YMYL contents. Google has stricter rules and higher quality standards for the evaluation of YMYL contents (your money, your life), the kind of sites and pages covering topics concerning finance and health.
- PayDay Loan algorithm. This is a kind of algorithm created in order to clean the SERP of queries on a spam risk, such as the one regarding small loans (the so-called payday loans, in the USA), pornographic contents and so on.
Another section of factors to take into account is the one specifically reffering to brands, meant both as “entities” that as specific trademark: from the links’ anchor texts up until their presence on social medias, Google seems to look with special attention at this signals.
- Branded anchor texts. One of the main factors of this category is the use of a branded anchor text, that still remains a signal as simple as it is strong (but pay attention not to abuse this information and over-optimize your link building campaigns).
- Branded searches. Users often search for brands: if then people search on Google for a specific trademark, the search engine identifies the site as a “true brand” and could evaluate it better.
- Searches of the brand + keyword type. Piling up on the previous case, also the branded keywords – those researches where both the brand name and other keywords – appear succeed in increasing the site visibility for Google’s algorithms (even for queries in which those keywords are then disconnected from the brand).
- Facebook page. If a brand owns a Facebook page receiving plenty likes and interactions it could benefit its ranking as well.
- Twitter profile. In a similar way, also branded Twitter profiles with lots of followers signal Google that it is dealing with a popular brand.
- LinkedIn official page. A company’s official page on LinkedIn helps making the brand more visible.
- Verified social media accounts. Google is able to determine if a social media account is real or fake: the number and type of interactions with followers, for instance, are a key element to the evaluation and weight of this signal.
- Brand References on Top Stories. Whenever we launch queries on real big brands, Google always answers with a Top Stories box informing us of latest activities; on some cases, in particular, Google takes its feeds directly from the official site (that will appears as first result).
- Brand References without links. Often brands also receives references without any backlink and, according to SEOs, Google still interprets these references as ranking factor.
- Physical premises of the activity. True companies have offices: starting from this postulation, it is believed possible that Google searches for info on the headquarters and activity location in order to assess if a site is a true and proper big brand or not.
On-site spam factors
The last two points if this very long guide are dedicated to the most sensitive element of all, a.k.a the penalization a site could face due to a kind of behaviour deemed unfair by Google algorithm: let’s then try to immediately see which are the possible on-site penalties and the correlated factors considered as spam. And, subsequently, learn which things bother the spiders and crawlers who cross our site, so to prevent making Google angry and to receive penalties on pages, keywords or the whole site.
- Panda penalties. Ever since Panda Update, Google punishes sites with low quality contents (mostly the old content farm) making them rank worse, especially after having received the penalty.
- Over-optimization of the site. It can indeed sound strange or paradoxal, but even an excess of site optimization can trigger penalties. Among the list of things not to do we can find keyword stuffing, the header tag stuffing, or a disproportional use of text emphasis (a.k.a bolds, cursives and signals like that).
- Spam in Meta Description. Using spam and keyword stuffing strategies inside the meta description (for instance, pushing the use of keywords to try and force the algorithm) could trigger a penalty.
- Focus on profits rather than readers. Since 2017 and the consequences of Fred algorithm, Google penalized sites with low quality contents aiming to maximize their profits with the ranking rather than focus on the help provided to readers by answering their search intent.
- Affiliation sites with no added value. Google devotes particular attention to the analysis of the sites taking part in affiliation programs, up to the point of penalizing on SERP “those sites mostly displaying contents sourcing back to their affiliated nets” and that do not “have enough added value contents distinguishing them from other websites”.
- Excessive use of outbounding nofollow. To put on nofollow every outbound link could signal Google an attempt of algorithm’s “manipulation” and an artificial creation of PageRank.
- IP address identified as spam. If the IP address of a server is marked as spam it could contaminate and penalize all the sites allocated on it.
- Links toward Bad Neighborhoods. Links toward “bad neighborhoods” could also be toxic when outbounding: an external link toward some sites, especially if active on YMYL fields and considered spammy by Google, risk to jeopardize search visibility.
- Hidden affiliation links. Trying to hide affiliation links, by using for instance some cloaking techniques, is a possible cause of penalty.
- Doorway pages. Google does not appreciate any attempt in deceiving the algorithm or the users, and doorway pages too are marked as potential penalty factor, because they redirect users on pages or sites different from the ones advertised on search results.
- Cloaking (or sneaky redirect). Sneaky redirects are a strategy to absolutely avoid: if Google finds it out there is not a simple penalty at stake this time, but downright a de-indexing of the entire site. We hence need to evoid the cloaking technique, the “practice of presenting human users contents or URLs different from the ones presented to search engines”, strongly discouraged by Google guidelines.
- Ads and intrusive popups. As we already said on multiple occasions, Google keeps into great account the user’s navigational experience: elements such as popups and intrusive ads can overcomplicate and make pages’ fruition negative, and for that they are considered as low quality signal for the site.
- Interstitial ads. Google could also penalize full screen interstitial ads, given the fact that they completely obstruct the view of the hosting site and the user’s display.
- Above the fold ads. Another spam signal is the presence of too many above the fold ads, that weigh down site’s fruition for the user and undermine Google’s “page layout algorithm” evaluation.
- Auto-generating contents. Google algorithm is able to identify and penalize auto-generated contents or the kind of contents apparently written in a correct form but, actually, lacking of any meaning whatsoever (the so-called “Gibberish“): whenever it stumbles into sites or pages of this kind it sets off a de-indexing.
Off-site spam and penalty factors
Once ended the part regarding all of the errors one could commit in the management of his own site, we now can tackle the analysis of spam and penalty factors that Google is able to detect on off-site strategies. In this case too, we are talking about those behaviours forcing the hand to try and bypass search engine guidelines so to intercept a better ranking, and that instead risk to get caught up in a penalty or, on worst cases, a total dismiss from Google Index.
- Hacked site. To suffer an hacking could lead to a de-indexing of our personal site: it is a quite rare case (it just happened on december 2018 to Search Engine Land) and it only happens when the attack is very severe and alters all of the pages, starting from the home page, by adding entirely spammy contents.
- Unnatural link spikes. Google is able to identify if the rithm of backlink reception is natural or not: whenever it detects unusual influxes, it devalues that site.
- Unnatural backlinks influx. Subsequently, to be more specific, a sudden and unnatural backlinks influx toward a site sets off Google’s alarm that they could be fake.
- Penguin penalties. Lately, Google Penguin’s penalties seems to only affect single pages and filter bad links rather than impact the entire site; anyway, whoever undergoes this kind of penalty loses visibility among search results.
- Poor quality backlink profile. Google could interpret the presence of a poor quality backlink profile as an attempt in manipulating ranking, with references mainly received from sources used for black hat SEO techniques.
- Backlinks from off topic sites. A high percentage of backlinks coming from off-topic sites, not correlated by theme, could lead to a manual penalty.
- Warning notifications on unnatural links. Google sends notification from Search Console whenever detecting unnatural links, that generally (but not always) anticipate a ranking collapse.
- Links from low quality directories. Inside Search Console guide, Google reports among unnatural connections also the backlinks of directory sites or low quality bookmarks.
- Links on article directory and press releases. Google identifies (and hence penalizes) among link schemes also those links included on directory sites and press releases published on other sites, especially if anchor texts are optimized.
- Links on widgets. Dangerous and discouraged are also those backlinks included on widgets and distributed on several sites, especially if they contain a lot of keywords, are hidden or low quality.
- Backlinks with same Class C IP. To receive an unnatural quantity of backlinks from sites sharing the same IP server could convince Google of the presence of a PBN link container.
- Dangerous anchor text. There are some anchor texts on a high risk of spam or hacking (especially keywords concerning medication drugs), and that could anyway impact a site’s ranking.
- Manual actions. When there is a manual action associated with the site, a part or the entire site will not be shown in Google search results.The list of such actions includes a dozen, such as user-generated spam, cloaking, compromised images, inadmissible redirect commands on mobile devices, and so on.
- Links Sale. If Google ever catches a site selling links it could penalize its visibility among searches.
- Sandbox effect. According to dome SEO analysts, Google would put in a sandbox the newest domains competing on the most aggressive keywords, in particular those quickly acquiring backlinks. A sort of Pagerank limitation and verification of worth of both sites and backlinks from Google, in order to prevent manipulative actions on SERPs.
- Google Dance. Sometimes SERPs dance for a specific Google’s will: with the name Google Dance we refer to a precise phenomenon, a.k.a the sudden and short-lived surges of the result pages which criteria are briefly mixed by Google itself in order to verify the potential presence of domains using black hat strategies and test their actual authority.
- Disavow Links. As we all know, Google designed the Disavow Link Tool so to exactly allow to manually remove those references coming from unknown and threatening sources, that could possibly generate negative SEO.
- Revision request. In order to get out from a penalty one can always forward a revision request to Google: if accepted, the site can restore and retrieve its previously lost visibility.
The main ranking factors for Google, underlying the active algorithmic systems
In making official what ranking systems are actually active (as of the end of 2022), Google also summarized what are the main (among countless) factors that these algorithms take into account, albeit of different weight and importance even depending on the type of search. For example, the date of publication of content plays a more impactful role in answering queries related to current topics than queries regarding dictionary definitions.
Thus, we know that there are five broad categories of major factors that determine the results of a query:
- Meaning. That is, the intent of the search, which Google tries to intercept through language models that understand how the few words entered in the search box match the most useful content available.
- Relevance. Systems subsequently analyze content to assess whether it contains information relevant to the search query (e.g., whether it includes the same keywords as the query on the page, in the headers, or in the body of the text), using aggregated, anonymized data on interactions to verify that the page has other relevant content beyond just the keywords.
- Quality. Google’s systems then prioritize content that seems most useful, identifying indicators that help identify content that emphasizes experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, i.e., the E-E-A-T parameters.
- Usability. In usability analysis, content deemed most accessible by users may also perform best, with ratings on aspects such as ease of viewing from mobile devices or speed of loading.
- Context. Information such as location, previous search history, and Search settings allow Google to ensure that the results shown to a user match what is most useful and relevant to them at that moment.
The analysis of signals, including official, confirmed, false myths and speculation
These five categories thus encapsulate the bulk of everything we have written so far and clear the field a bit from the various speculations and “rumors,” which in the international community are not lacking and never stop.
Just to focus the points better, we can refer to the work of Brad Smith, who analyzed and condensed “all known, confirmed, rumored and just mythical Google ranking factors.”
- Confirmed and official factors
These are components that Google has admitted to using for ranking purposes, albeit with different weights and specificities.
- Content (quality and usefulness)
- Core Web Vitals
- Page Speed
- Physical proximity to the user doing the search
- Relevance, distance, and prominence (determine a company’s popularity and geographic proximity along with its relevance to the specific search query)
- Anchor texts (to better understand the expected content on the landing page)
- Keyword Prominence
- Title tags
- Domain history
- Unconfirmed but suspected ranking factors
These signals were never confirmed by Google, but experts suspect they may have an impact on SEO and ranking.
- Alt text
- Click depth or click-through depth
- Local citations
- Co-citations and co-occurrences
- Language (for sites operating in international markets)
- Internal links
- User search history
- Whispered but unlikely ranking factors
The following are signals that have been speculated about for a long time and are therefore chatted about: although they have not been openly denied by Google so far, there are good reasons to believe that their use is at least unlikely.
- Redirect 301
- Outbound links
- Debunked and unofficial ranking factors
If the previous ones were signals “in limbo,” here we are faced with elements officially declared useless for ranking purposes on Google: they are therefore factors we do not have to worry too much about, at least from the perspective of search engine visibility.
- Bounce rate
- Presence of 404 and soft 404 pages (they do not affect the ranking of other URLs, but can still provide a poor user experience)
- Google Display Ads (do not harm ranking, but can reduce site loading speed and thus negatively affect UX)
- Better Business Bureau (an old <em>myth</em> claimed that Better Business Bureau – BBB reviews could not only affect consumer purchasing decisions, but also SEO rankings)
- Click-through rate – CTR
- Code to Text ratio (ratio of volume of code to amount of text on page)
- Meta descriptions
- Manual actions (they are a penalty, not a ranking signal)
- Length of content
- Domain age
- Domain name (keyword match)
- Priority to the first link
- Topicality of content
- Types of links (related to extensions such as .edu, .gov, etc.)
- Keyword density
- Uncertain ranking factors
The last group of signals includes a number of “pending” elements, which have some evidence to support their actual use for ranking purposes but still no official confirmation or denial.
- Autorship or role of the content author (the signature of a specific author could affect how Google ranks the page, even in light of EEAT)
- HTML lists (bulleted or numbered lists may or may not have an effect on ranking, but they often help gain visibility because they appear in featured snippets)
- MUM (MUM Multitask Unified Model was implemented in 2021 to help algorithms better understand language so that Google can respond more effectively to complex search queries)
- Text formatting (using HTML elements, such as bold or italics, to format text can help both readers and Google’s crawling tools quickly find important parts of content)
Ranking factors on Yandex and source code leaks
At first glance, reading that Google uses 200+ ranking factors to evaluate pages may seem like an “exaggerated” value, but in reality the elements taken into account by search engines to create their rankings are even more numerous.
We discovered this concretely at the end of January 2023, when the Russian Yandex (the fourth largest search engine in the world by number of users), suffered a leak that led to the publication on social media of (a large) part of its internal source codes, including precisely the possible signals used for ranking purposes.
As revealed by the experts who launched into the study of this immense amount of data, there are more than 1900 ranking factors (to be precise, 1922), although then 999 of these are labeled as TG_DEPRECATED, 242 as TG_UNUSED, 149 as TG_UNIMPLEMENTED and 115 as TG_REMOVED – in practice, there are about 417 active ones, still many more than the 200 or so we assume for Google.
The differences and commonalities between Yandex and Google
It is fairly obvious to say that Yandex is not Google – according to a rough analysis, the two SERPs would be 70% similar in terms of results listed on the first page for the same queries, without considering additional features – but the basic workings of the search engines are comparable.
It follows that the study of Yandex’s unveiled ranking factors is one that can still provide interesting insights to those doing SEO on Google, with the understanding that the information is not necessarily directly applicable even to the world’s most famous and widely used search engine.
As revealed by some articles, the most important ranking signals for Yandex are grouped into four areas:
- Links: Yandex uses an algorithm similar to PageRank do Google that assesses the quality of links, taking into account elements such as text and age.
- User signals: where Google has always denied using these criteria (too volatile, manipulable, and unreliable), Yandex’s source code clearly shows that user signals are a ranking factor and therefore values such as CTR, time on site, bounce rate, and number of visitors returning to SERPs have an impact on ranking.
- Relevance: Yandex mainly uses BM25 and other elements, such as whether the keyword is contained in the URL.
- Trust and quality: Yandex also applies higher quality requirements for sensitive topics such as health and financial content-for example, there are 7 different ranking factors for medical topics alone.
In addition, Yandex generally ranks content posted on Wikipedia.org better than others, predicts a negative effect on rankings for server errors (400/500 status codes), and rates HTTPS encryption and site speed positively.
Probably, we reiterate, these leaked rules are outdated and almost certainly different from those in use at Google, but in any case it may be interesting to know or have a general idea of how a search engine works, even without then imposing on oneself to apply all the directions to the letter in order to hope for an improvement in organic visibility!