A complete guide to Google’s SEO ranking factors

I’s a long-held belief that there’s a definitive list of all ranking factors that Google takes into account when sorting page results. For marketers discontent, this is unlikely to be true.

The myth probably started back in 2006 when Matt Cutts, the former Head of Search Quality at Google, first mentioned there were “over 200 variables” in the Google algorithm.

If anything, there are probably far more factors that come into play when determining which website shows up first in the search engine results — Cutts himself said that there are 50 or more variations within each factor.

Also, nothing is set in stone. What is true one day may not be the following week. Or at least not on the next algorithm update.

In the past couple of years, Google has carried out several updates and changes. There was the push for HTTPS, the Hummingbird algorithm practically built from scratch in 2013, the mobile-first indexing, and the use of machine learning with RankBrain, just to name a few.

In the end, the main takeaway is that regardless of the number of variables, ranking factors do impact directly your SEO strategy. However, the weight of each factor may differ.

Let’s go through all of them, grouped under the following categories:

  • Domain Ranking Factors
  • Page-Level Ranking Factors
  • Site-Level Ranking Factors
  • Backlink Ranking Factors
  • User Interaction Ranking Factors
  • Special Google Algorithm Factors
  • Brand Signals
  • On-Site Webspam Signals
  • Off-Site Webspam Signals


Domain Ranking Factors

Here’s an overview of the most important domain ranking factors:

Positives

  • Domain History
  • Keywords In Domain
  • Exact Match Domain

Negatives

  • Private Whois Data
  • Penalized Whois Owner
  • Country TLD Extension

1. Domain Age: how long your domain has been around counts, but it's not that important, as Matt Cutts explains in this video.

“The difference between a domain that’s six months old versus one year old is really not that big at all.”

Instead, a much more relevant data for Google, for example, would be when was that domain crawled for the first time or when it got its first backlinks.

2. Domain registration length: all domain names are registered only for a certain length of time. When that period expires, you have to renew your domain registration in order to keep it active.

A previous Google patent filing establishes that the company does look into domain registration and renewal dates:

“Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain.”

3. Domain History: if a certain domain is continuously dropped — that is, it constantly expires after a short term —, Google could see this is volatile ownership and “reset” the site’s history, denying links pointing to the domain.

In specific situations, a penalized domain could even convey the penalty over to whoever purchases that domain next.

4. Penalized WhoIs Owner: so, WhoIs is basically a query and response protocol widely used for querying databases. It stores the information of registered users of an Internet resource, such as a domain name or an IP address.

If Google identifies a particular person as a spammer it makes sense that they would inspect and potentially penalize other sites owned by that person.

5. Public vs. Private WhoIs: in regards to domains and Privacy Services, Matt Cutts has stated:

“… and when I checked the whois on them, they all had ‘whois privacy protection service’ on them. That’s relatively unusual. … Having whois privacy turned on isn’t automatically bad, but once you get several of these factors all together, you’re often talking about a very different type of webmaster than the fellow who just has a single site or so.”

A Public Whois is perhaps one of those things that might help just a little bit, but it definitely can’t hurt you.

6. Country TLD extension: a Country Code Top-Level Domain (.pa, .mx, .br) indicates geotargeting and can help the site rank better in that particular country. On the other hand, it could affect how the site ranks globally.

7. Exact Match Domain: exact Match Domains, or EMD as they are known, are domain names that incorporate the exact keywords that you are trying to rank for in Google's search results page.

In the early days, they used to rank very easily, but Google knocked it down with the EMD update in 2012. However, if your EMD is a high-quality site, it may still give you a slight edge.

8. Keyword in Top Level Domain: very similarly, having a specific keyword as part of your domain name used to give you an extra SEO boost. Nowadays, it still acts as a relevancy signal but it’s unlikely to have the same impact.

9. Keyword as First Word in Domain: Also, some would argue that a domain that starts with their target keyword has a better chance of ranking over sites that either don’t have that keyword in their domain or have it in the middle or end of their domain. But that is hardly a relevant variable, so don’t worry too much about it.

10. Keyword in Subdomain: Moz’s expert panel suggests that a keyword included in a subdomain could increase rankings. Just as a recap, a subdomain is the portion of a URL that comes before the “main” domain name and the domain extension. Overall, it is a great way of organizing and navigating through different sections of your website.



Page-Level Ranking Factors

Here’s an overview of the most important page-level ranking factors:

Positives

  • Keyword in URL, Title Tag and Metadata
  • Unique, updated, quality content
  • Page speed (including mobile)

Negatives

  • Duplicate Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Syndicated content

11. Keyword in Title Tag: Your title tag, which defines the title of your web page, is an important on-page SEO signal, especially because it will be displayed on search engine results pages as the clickable headline for a given result.

Even if your site ranks well, a good title can be the make-or-break factor in determining whether or not someone clicks on your link. A perfectly crafted title can have a huge impact on your click-through-rate.

The title tag is also used to determine what to display when you share that page on social networks, making it crucial for usability, SEO, and social sharing.

12. Title Tag Starts with Keyword: According to Moz and other SEO metrics tools, title tags that start with a keyword tend to outperform those with the keyword towards the end of the tag. So when publishing new content, ensure you have that keyword right at the beginning.

13. Keyword in Description Tag: Even though Google doesn’t consider the meta description tag a direct ranking signal, this little piece of html code will be seen in the page results snippet. And this can impact on your click-through-rate, which is a key ranking factor.

Ideally it will tell the user exactly what to expect, just under 155-160 characters (this is the limit Google imposes on meta description displayed characters).

14. Keyword Appears in H1 Tag: We could say that H1 tags are a “second title tag”. Along with your title tag, Google uses your H1 tag as a relevancy signal, reason why you should take advantage of this and ensure you include your target keyword.

15. TD-IDF: Term frequency–inverse document frequency is one fancy way of saying: “how many times does a certain word appear in a document?”. The more often a word appears on a certain page, the more likely it is to assume that page is about that word.

Google uses a sophisticated version of TF-IDF, which is directly related to the keyword density.

16. Keyword Density: Back in the day, keyword density was one of the main ranking factors. As marketers and SEO specialists learned how to use it to their advantage, Google updated and evolved its algorithm to the point that it became much less relevant nowadays.

However, keyword density is still used to determine the topic of a webpage. Most experts believe an ideal rate is around 1-3%, which means the target keyword appears about one to three times every 100 words.

Just make sure the keyword appears enough times to show search engines what the page is about without engaging in keyword stuffing.

17. Keyword Prominence: keyword prominence is related to having your target keyword appear in the first 100 words of a page’s content, on the opening tag in the page source code.

Essentially, this means including your keyword close to the SEO-sensitive elements of the page: title, heading tag, meta description. It also shows prominence including your keyword in links’ anchor text, bold text and alt text throughout the content.

18. Table of Contents: using a structured and linked table of contents helps search engines better understand your page’s content. It can also result in sitelinks on Google SERP, other than boosting featured snippets such as FAQs and lists.

19. Keyword in H2, H3 Tags: you can emphasize the most important keywords of the page with the help of basic semantic structure. In fact, John Mueller from Google stated:

“These heading tags in HTML help us to understand the structure of the page.”

Make sure to take full advantage of H1, H2, H3 tags to make your page structure perfectly clear to a search bot.

20. Content Length: it is undeniable that content length is correlated with SERP position, although it’s debatable how long articles should actually be.

In 2016, Brian Dean and Eric Van Buskirk analyzed 1 million websites with statistical analysis to determine the most important ranking factors. One of their main findings was that the average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.

Naturally, content with more words covers a wider topic range and are likely to be preferred by the algorithm in comparison to shorter, superficial articles. However, writing more just to stretch out the word count is never advisable. If a subject calls for depth, give it depth.

21. Page Covers Topic In-Depth: Google’s getting better at processing language every day, which enables it to better understand topics of web pages and website content overall. There seems to be a correlation between depth of topic coverage and Google rankings.

Also, if a website covers every angle of a certain topic in several different pages, it will probably have an edge over pages that cover a topic partially on only a couple of posts.

22. Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords in Content (LSI): According to the SEO community, LSI keywords are words and phrases that Google sees as semantically-related to a topic. This is how the search would extract meaning from polysemic words (for example, orange the color or orange the fruit) and tell the difference between topics.

However, John Mueller, who is a Webmaster Trends Analytics at Google, has stated this is not a decisive ranking factor:

https://twitter.com/JohnMu/status/1156293862681468929

Despite his tweet, there are enough reasons to believe LSI keywords are somehow related to content quality signal.

Of course, if you’re knowledgeable about a topic, you’ll naturally include related words and phrases in your content. Putting yourself in your readers shoes and asking yourself what they could be looking for is the best way to ensure you're producing relevant content.

23. LSI Keywords in Title and Description Tags: Other than the webpage content, LSI keywords in meta title and description tags can help search bots discern between words with multiple potential meanings. They also act as a relevancy signal for readers on the search results page.

24. Page Loading Speed via HTML: Page speed is one of the main ranking factors for Google. Search engine spiders can accurately estimate a site speed based on its HTML code, so be sure to always have it optimized. no carrossel de notícias no mobile

25. Page Loading Speed via Chrome Chrome’s user data can also be used by Google to measure how quickly a page actually loads to users. Some of the metrics data Google collects through the browser are First and Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay and Time to First Byte.

26. Use of AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open source technology optimized for mobile web browsing and intended to help pages load faster. While not a direct Google ranking factor, it has a decisive role on the Core Web Vitals update, which considers the overall page experience.

The bottom line is that optimizing for page speed and mobile experience is crucial for SEO, but Google AMP is just one way of achieving that.

27. Entity Match: Unfortunately, there is not much solid information on entities — and notoriously ambiguous Google patents don’t help much. By the company’s definition:

An entity is a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined, and distinguishable. For example, an entity may be a person, place, item, idea, abstract concept, concrete element, other suitable thing, or any combination thereof. Generally, entities include things or concepts represented linguistically by nouns. For example, the color "Blue," the city "San Francisco," and the imaginary animal "Unicorn" may each be entities.

So, if a page’s content matches the “entity” the user is searching for, it definitely get a rankings boost for that keyword.

28. Google Hummingbird: This algorithm update from 2013 helped Google move past keywords. Thanks to Hummingbird, Google started better understanding the overall topic of a webpage and the true intent behind users' search.

29. Duplicate Content: It is known that content duplicates on the same site, even if just slightly modified, can negatively impact a site’s search engine visibility. This is why it’s important to continuously audit your URLs and check for any duplicates internally or page not found errors.

30. Rel=Canonical: And in case you do have a single page accessible by multiple URLs or different pages with similar content, it is important to use the canonical tag to tell search engines which version is the correct one to be indexed.

This way you can prevent Google from penalizing your site for duplicate content.

31. Content Recency: Google’s Caffeine update was made to ensure users had access to fresher results, especially when related to time-sensitive searches. To illustrate content recency as an important ranking factor, you can see how certain search pages show the date of a page’s last update.

32. Magnitude of Content Updates: The freshness factor also takes into account the significance of changes. Removing a whole block or adding new content is clearly more relevant than editing the order of a sentence or fixing a couple of typos.

33. Historical Page Updates: How often is a page updated over time? Weekly, monthly, every two years? Frequency of page updates are directly related to content freshness.

34. Number of Outbound Links: Links to external websites can either have a Follow or NoFollow attribute, which indicates if search engines should or not consider that outbound link for page ranking calculations.

The links themselves are not a ranking factor, but having outbound links on your site could add value to your own content, which Google views positively.

John Mueller explains this in his Q&A video.

35. Outbound Link Quality: In the same topic, a recent study has shown that linking out to authority sites can help establish trust signals to Google.

36. Outbound Link Theme: Pointing out to authority sites and the content of the pages you link to can also be used to indicate relevancy, according to the Hilltop Algorithm.

37. Too Many Outbound Links: However, one should never add outbound links just for the sake of it. Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines says:

“Some pages have way, way too many links, obscuring the page and distracting from the Main Content.”

Too many dofollow outbound links could "leak" the authority of that page, hurting its rankings.

38. Syndicated Content: Essentially, content syndication is when web-based content is re-published by a third-party website. If the content on the page is not original, but instead scraped or copied from an indexed page it probably won’t rank as well… or even get indexed at all.

Here you can find Matt Cutts’ take on external duplicated content: syndicating content is fine as long as you make sure you are linking back to the original source.

39. Mobile-Friendly Update: Known popularly as “Mobilegeddon“, this update from 2015 rewarded mobile-friendly pages. With the upcoming launch of Core Web Vitals, properly optimizing pages for mobile devices will become even more important.

40. Mobile Usability: Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page's content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user's query. Since 2019, Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking, which became known as “Mobile-first Index”.

41. Hidden Content on Mobile Before, Google’s position on hidden content for better mobile experience was that it could not get indexed (or not be weighed as heavily) in comparison to fully visible content. This changed with the mobile-first index.

Both Gary Illyes and John Mueller from Google confirmed it. However, they also said “…if it’s critical content it should be visible…”.

42. Content Hidden Behind Tabs: Same thing goes for collapsible content hidden in tabs, accordions and click-to-expand buttons. As a valuable and expected part of UX, this content is expected to be indexed and ranked just as well as normal content.

43. Helpful “Supplementary Content”: The now-public Quality Raters Guidelines document confirms that helpful supplementary content is an indicator of a page’s quality, which in turn affects Google ranking.

Essentially, supplementary Content contributes to a good user experience on the page, but does not directly help the page achieve its purpose. For example, this could be a section of similar and related products on an e-commerce website or a sidebar with suggestions to different articles and embedded social posts on blog pages.

44. Image Optimization: File name, alt text, title, description and caption are some of images relevancy signals used by search engines. Showing up as one of the first options on Google Images can lead more readers to your website.

45. Multimídia: Having unique images, videos and other visual elements as a support for your main content can be a quality signal.

46. Number of Internal Links Pointing to Page: Just like external links affect your rankings, so does internal linking. It indicates the importance of a page relative to other pages on the same website: the more internal links pointing to the page, the more important it is considered.

47. Quality of Internal Links Pointing to Page: The quality of those links are also important. Pages with higher authority on a domain will have a stronger effect on the internal linking than those with no or low PageRank.

48. Broken Links: Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines specify that broken links are one way to assess a homepage’s quality. Too many of those could indicate a neglected or abandoned site.

49. Affiliate Links: Used to promote other companies' products or services, affiliate links themselves are not a ranking factor. However, thin affiliate websites, those that lack enough content to be valuable to visitors, are considered low-quality signals and may be ignored by Google’s modern algorithm.

50. HTML errors/W3C validation: This one is controversial, as there is nothing to sustain that a well-coded page is considered a quality signal. But it is fair to say that many HTML errors and sloppy coding is usually a sign of a poor quality website.

51. Domain Authority If all on-page SEO ranking factors were the same, a page on a domain with higher authority would rank better than a page on a domain less authoritative.

52. Page’s PageRank: Despite not being directly correlated, it’s safe to say that pages with higher authority tend to outrank those without much link authority (for more on the topic, check ranking factor #87).

53. URL Length: Short URLs tend to have a better performance in Google’s search results as opposed to excessively long URLs, which can hurt a page’s search engine visibility.

54. URL Path: The site’s architecture plays a critical role in SEO effectiveness, as this factor affects the findability and usability of your site. A page immediately under the homepage will get an authority boost versus pages that are buried deep down in the site map.

55. Human Editors It has never been confirmed, but it is reasonable to consider a human touch on the ranking process. Google has even filed a patent for a system that allows human editors to influence the SERPs, where it says:

“the editors may construct a rule for each query theme to decide if a future search query belongs to the theme”.

56. Page Category: The category in which a page is filed can be a relevancy signal. A page that’s part of a closely related category could get a relevancy boost in comparison to a page that appears on an unrelated category.

57. Keyword in URL: John Mueller from Google admitted in 2016 that keywords in URLs are a very small ranking factor, but a ranking factor nonetheless.

58. URL String: The fact that the URL string is shown in the SERP page indicates that it is read by Google and used to provide a thematic signal of what the page is about.

59. References and Sources: Even if external links are not considered a ranking factor, citing references and sources can be a sign of quality. According to the Quality Raters Guidelines, these are important when a topic demands expertise and/or authoritative sources.

60. Reading Level: There’s no doubt that Google analyzes readability. As a matter of fact, up until 2015 you could even filter your searches by reading level — Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced.

However, it is debatable how (and if) this is really used as a ranking factor. While some say that a basic reading level would be more accessible and therefore easier to rank, others associate it to cheap website content.

61. Bullets and Numbered Lists: Bullet and numbered lists break up long-form content for readers, making it easier to read. Google likely agrees and may take it into account in its readability evaluation.

62. Grammar and Spelling Proper grammar and spelling are not a direct signal used in search quality, but they do show content quality and can influence the page’s reputation, as Cutts explains in this video.

63. Priority of Page in Sitemap: Directly related to the site architecture (read more on #72), the priority a page has in the overall website structure can influence positively ranking.

64. UX Signals From Other Keywords the Page Ranks For: If the page is already ranking for several other keywords, it may give Google an internal sign of quality. In fact, Google’s “How Search Works” report explains:

“We look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries.”

65. Page Age: Google values fresh content, but an older page that’s regularly updated may even outperform newer pages.

66. User-Friendly Layout: Once again citing Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines:

“The page layout on highest quality pages makes the Main Content immediately visible.”

67. Parked Domains: A registered domain name that's not linked to a website or email hosting service is considered a parked domain. Essentially, the domain isn't active — it's parked for later use.

A Google update from 2011 decreased search visibility of parked domains.

68. Useful Content: There’s no evidence to support this, but Google may distinguish between “quality” and “useful” content. For example, while a long-form blog post about on-page SEO may rank higher because it explains thoroughly the topic, a shorter post can still get a featured snippet as a fast answer to a specific question about on-page factors.

Basically, not always the best quality content corresponds to the users search intent.


Site-Level Ranking Factors

Here’s an overview of the most important site-level ranking factors:

Positives

  • Structured site architecture
  • Website security
  • Contact, Terms of Services & Privacy pages

Negatives

  • Duplicate meta content
  • Site downtime
  • Site not optimized for Mobile

69. Valuable Content: Google has stated that they penalize sites that don’t have enough added value content that differentiates them from other sites on the web. This is especially true in regards to thin affiliate sites.

70. Contact Us Page: The aforementioned Quality Raters Guidelines reveals that Google prefers sites with an “appropriate amount of contact information”. Make sure your contact information is updated and that it matches your domain whois info.

71. Domain Trust/TrustRank: The SEO community believes that “TrustRank” is a massively important ranking factor. And a Google patent called “Search result ranking based on trust” seems to back this up.

72. Site Architecture: A well put-together site architecture helps search engines find and understand your content, so that it can better index and give access to all of your site’s pages. A silo structure properly linked internally can work miracles.

73. Presence of Sitemap: Google has stated that HTML sitemaps aren’t “useful” for SEO purposes. However, going through the process of putting up a sitemap probably means that you are actively working on your website navigation and user experience, both of which are essential for good indexation.

74. Site Updates: Many SEO specialists believe that a website’s frequent updates works a site-wide freshness factor. Despite Google having denied publishing frequency as a ranking factor, one thing is certain: having more unique and quality content gives you more opportunities to rank well in search.

75. Site Up & Downtime: If a site is constantly under maintenance, with a lot of downtime or server issues, it is likely that this will compromise it’s SEO rankings — even culminating in being deindexed by Google.

76. Server Location: Your server’s location could influence where your site ranks in different geographical regions. But this isn’t a massive issue as you can set geotargeting, either through Webmaster Tools’ or ccTLD over server location.

77. SSL Certificate: HTTPS as a ranking signal has been confirmed by Google, who encourages its adoption throughout the web. As a secure version of the HTTP protocol, it provides three layers of protection — encryption, data integrity and authentication.

Secure Sockets Layer (SLL) certificate is a type of digital file that provides authentication for a website and enables an encrypted connection between a web server and a browser.

78. Terms of Service and Privacy Pages: These two pages are not there just for legal reasons. They show Google that a site is a trustworthy member of the internet. If you use Google Adsense for example, these pages are not only well seen, but also required.

79. Duplicate Meta Information On-Site: Just like duplicate meta information on page-level can be prejudicial, across your site it may bring down all of your pages’ visibility.

80. Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumb is a user-friendly secondary navigation that helps users visualize where they are on a site. It also gives them a way to trace the path back to their original landing point, no matter at which page they ended up.

81. Mobile Optimized: With more than 60% of all searches being done from mobile devices, Google wants to ensure your site is optimized for mobile users. In fact, since the Mobile-first Index update in 2019, Google started penalizing websites that aren’t mobile friendly.

82. Youtube: There’s no doubt that YouTube videos are given preferential treatment. Maybe because Google owns it? Studies from Search Engine Land suggest that YouTube.com traffic increased significantly after Google Panda launch in 2011.

83. Site Usability: A site difficult to use or to navigate can have its rankings affected negatively by reduced time on site, number of pages viewed and high bounce rate.

84. Use of Google Analytics and Google Search Console: Some SEO specialists believe that having these two programs implemented on your site can improve your page’s indexing. Most likely, they would influence rankings by giving Google more data to work with (ie. more accurate bounce rate, if a site gets or not referral traffic from its backlinks, etc.). That said, Matt Cutts from Google has denied it in this video.

85. User negative reviews: A site’s reputation on review sites such as Yelp.com likely play an important role in Google’s algorithm. This was addressed on this post on Google’s official blog after a story about a business treating customers badly to get more backlinks went viral.


Backlink Ranking Factors

Here’s an overview of the most important backlink ranking factors:

Positives

  • Keyword in anchor text
  • Correct use of rel attribute
  • Linking Domain and Page Authority

Negatives

  • Black Hat Link Building
  • Links from Bad Neighborhoods
  • Link schemes

86. Backlink Anchor Text: In the paper where Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, first described the search engine system, it says:

“We associate it [the text of a link] with the page the link points to. This has several advantages. First, anchors often provide more accurate descriptions of web pages than the pages themselves. Second, anchors may exist for documents which cannot be indexed by a text-based search engine, such as images, programs, and databases”.

Obviously, anchor text isn’t as important as it was in 1998, but a keyword-rich anchor text is still a strong relevancy signal.

87. Authority of Linking Page: The above-mentioned paper also presents us PageRank, or the authority of a certain page according to Google in the early days. Essentially, the PageRank is a complex algorithm that assigns a score of importance to a page on the web based on their incoming backlink links.

We could resume PageRank’s algorithm like this:

  1. Links on the web count as votes. At first, all votes were equal.
  2. As a page received more votes, it became more important (and ranked higher.)
  3. More important pages cast more important votes.

88. # of Linking Root Domains: One of the main ranking factors in Google’s algorithm is the number of referring domains: SEO studies show that the top results tend to have more linking domains than those towards the bottom of the first page.

89. # of Linking Pages: The total number of linking pages also has an impact on rankings, even if several of them are from the same domain.

90. # of Links from Separate C-Class IPs: IP addresses are composed of five different sections, referred to as classes. Each class is given a letter under the format A.B.C.D.E.

Links from separate class-C IP addresses suggest a wider breadth of sites linking to you, which can help with rankings. IP addresses with links from separate class-C suggest a wider breadth of sites linking to you, which have the potential to affect rank.

91. # of Outbound Links on Page: According to Google, PageRank is finite. Everytime a page links to another one, it sends some of its own authority score.

A link from a page with hundreds of external links will pass less value (aka link juice) than a link from a page with just a handful of useful outbound links.

92. Linking Domain Age: It is likely that backlinks from older domains are more powerful than new domains.

93. Authority of Linking Domain: A link’s value may also be influenced by the referring domain’s authority.

94. TrustRank of Linking Site: Introduced in addition to PageRank, TrustRank is an algorithm aimed at evaluating the quality of web content. The trustworthiness of the site linking to yours will determine how much “TrustRank” gets passed on to you.

95. Links from .edu or .gov Domains: Despite Matt Cutts having stated that TLD doesn’t factor into a site’s importance and John Mueller’s comment on ignored .edu links, there is evidence to suspect that there’s a special place in the algorithm for .gov and .edu TLDs. The reason for this belief is that these sites can be very authoritative in certain topics, which is highly valued in search algorithms.

96. Links From Competitors: Links from a competitor page that ranks in the same SERP is probably more valuable to a page’s ranking for that particular keyword.

97. Links from “Expected” Websites: The SEO community believes that Google doesn’t fully trust your website until you get a backlink from “expected” authoritative sites in your industry, but this is very speculative.

98. Links from Bad Neighborhoods: Bad Neighborhoods refer to all websites that have been severely downgraded by search engines. Websites containing terms like “gambling”, “casino”, “pornography” or “Viagra” can be considered Bad Neighbors. A link from one of these websites will definitely hurt your site.

99. Links From Ads: Google says that links from ads should have the nofollow attribute. However, it’s safe to assume that Google can still identify and filter out followed links from ads.

100. Nofollow Links: This is a very controversial topic in SEO. Google’s official word on outbound links attribute is that they don’t crawl nofollow links, but that doesn’t mean they don’t track it. The % of nofollow links can indicate Google a natural versus unnatural link profile.

101. “Sponsored” or “UGC” Tags: Links tagged with the attribute “rel=sponsored” or “rel=UGC” are treated differently than normal follow or nofollow links.

102. Diversity of Link Types: A large percentage of links coming from a single source, such as forum profiles or blog comments, could be a sign of webspam. On the other hand, diverse sources are a sign of a natural link profile.

103. Homepage Authority: Links to a referring page’s homepage may play special importance in evaluating a site’s — and therefore a link’s — weight.

104. Guest Posts: Even though links from guest posts still pass value, they might not be as powerful as editorial links (plus, links in large-scale article campaigns can get your site into trouble).

105. Contextual Links: Links positioned within a page’s content, in-context, are more powerful than links found elsewhere on the page.

106. Excessive 301 Redirects to Page: According to this Webmaster Help Video, too many backlinks from 301 redirects can dilute PageRank value.

107. Link Title Attribution: The link title, which appears when you hover over a link, could also be considered as a weak relevancy signal.

108. Internal Link Anchor Text: Anchor text in internal links is another relevancy signal. However, internal links probably have much less weight than anchor text coming from external websites

109. Alt Tag (for Image Links): The alt tag on images have the same effect as anchor texts on links.

110. Country TLD of Referring Domain: Getting links from Country Code Top-Level Domains (.pa, .mx, .br) could help you rank better in that particular country.

111. Link Location on Page: The position of a link within a page is important. Generally, a link embedded in a page’s content is more powerful than a link in the footer or sidebar area.

112. Link Location In Content: Similarly, links in the beginning of a piece of content could have more weight than links placed at the end of the content.

113. Linking Domain Relevancy: A link from a website in a similar topic niche is likely more powerful than a link from a completely unrelated site.

114. Page-Level Relevancy: A link from a relevant page also has more value.

115. Keyword in Title: Links from a page that contains your page’s keyword in the title have extra credit — this is simplified by Google as “Experts linking to experts”.

116. Positive Link Velocity: The rate at which external backlinks are acquired is known in the SEO community as link velocity. A site with positive and constant link velocity usually gets a SERP boost as it shows a website is increasing in popularity.

117. Negative Link Velocity: The contrary is also true: as a signal of decreasing popularity, a negative link velocity could reduce rankings.

118. Links from “Hub” Pages: Getting links from a page considered a top resource (or hub) on a certain topic is a signal of relevancy, according to the primitive Hilltop Algorithm.

119. Link from Authority Sites: A link from a site considered an authority on a particular topic likely passes more juice than a link from a small, relatively unknown site

120. Linked to as Wikipedia Source: Even though WIkipedia links are tagged as nofollow, many speculate that being cited as a source shows added trust and authority in the eyes of search engines.

121. Co-Occurrences: Related to anchor text’s weakening as a ranking factor, the words that appear around your backlinks could help Google understand what that page is about.

122. Backlink Age: According to this Google patent, backlink’s age is important. Probably older links help rank better than newly assigned backlinks. The freshness of a link may also be determined by:

123. Links from Real Sites vs. “Splogs”: With the proliferation of blog networks, Google likely found a way of giving more weight to links coming from “real sites” than from spam blogs (or Splogs). SEO specialists assume it uses brand and user-interaction signals to distinguish between both.

124. Natural Link Profile: Sites considered to have a natural link profile ranks higher than those which obviously used Black Hat Strategies to build links.

125. Reciprocal Links: Google considers “Excessive link exchanging” as link schemes and recommends avoiding it.

126. User Generated Content Links: Google can differentiate user generated content and content published by the actual site owner. It understands that spam can be generated on a good site by malicious visitors and may take action on user-generated spam.

127. Links from 301: Matt Cutts has explained how PageRank is dissipated through 301 redirects. Currently, a 301 PageRank flow is very similar to one of a direct link.

128. Schema.org Usage: Pages that support microformats may rank above those that don’t. This could be due to a direct boost or to the fact that microformatting pages have a higher SERP CTR.

129. Forum Links: On account of industrial-level spamming, Google notably devalues links from forums.

130. Word Count of Linking Content: The word count of a content that links your page is potentially a ranking factor. Afterall, is easy to see how a link from a 1000-word post is worth more than a link within a 25-word snippet.

131. Quality of Linking Content: Links from poorly written content or from content produced by automation tools won’t pass as much value as links from well-written content.

132. Sitewide Links: A site-wide link is the one that appears on several pages of the same website, with the exact same anchor text, title, target, etc. Matt Cutts has confirmed that site-wide backlinks are “compressed” to count as a single link.


User Interaction Ranking Factors

Here’s an overview of the most important user interaction ranking factors:

Positives

  • Direct Traffic
  • Repeat Traffic
  • High Dwell time

Negatives

  • Low domain level CTR
  • Low page level CTR
  • Bounce rate / pogo sticking

133. RankBrain: RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm developed by Google and used to help process search results. Essentially, RankBrain shows the user a set of search results that it “thinks” he’ll like. If lots of people like one particular page in the results, they’ll give that page a rankings boost.

And how does RankBrain know how people like one of the results for a certain query? It understands how you interact with the search results, through some of the ranking factors we’ll explain next, such as organic Click-Through-Rate, Dwell Time, Bounce Rate and Pogo-sticking.

134. Organic Click-Through-Rate for a Keyword: Pages on a SERP for a specific keyword that gets more clicks will get a boost for related searches.

135. Organic CTR for All Keywords: Having several keywords with a high organic CTR is a human-based, user interaction signal that could be used as a “Quality Score” for the organic results.

136. Direct Traffic: Considering Google uses data from Google Chrome to analyse how many people visit a site (and how often), it’s reasonable to assume that sites with significant direct traffic are seen as a higher quality site. As a matter of fact, this SEMRush study found a direct correlation between direct traffic and Google rankings.

137. Repeat Traffic: In the same way, sites with repeat visitors may also get a Google ranking boost, especially when it’s a niche website (unlike a news portal, for example)

138. Bounce Rate: Bounce Rate is defined by the percentage of visitors that leave a webpage without taking any action, such as clicking on a link, moving to another page or filling out a form.

The SEO community agrees that bounce rate is used as a quality test — a page with a high rate probably isn't a great result for that keyword. The aforementioned study also found a correlation between bounce rate and Google rankings.

139. Pogo Sticking: “Pogo sticking” is a special kind of bounce. According to Google, it happens when a user visits several different search results in order to find the one that satisfies their search query. This back and forth on the SERP page indicates that a particular result is not a good fit for what the user is searching, which leads to a significant rankings drop.

140. Blocked Sites: Blocking links in the search results used to be a feature and a quality signal on the Panda update. Despite having been discontinued in Chrome, Google could still use a variation of it.

Chrome Bookmarks: As we said previously, the data collected through Chrome browser usage data influences different ranking signals. So pages that are bookmarked in Chrome could also get a boost.

142. Number of Comments: Pages with many comments are seen as a signal of user-interaction and quality. In fact, one Googler said an engaged community through comments helps with ranking.

Also, those who read through the page’s content and comments are likely to stay longer, increasing dwell time.

143. Dwell Time: Google pays very close attention to dwell time: how long someone stays on your page when coming from a Google search. The longer time spent, the better.


Special Google Algorithm Rules

Here’s an overview of the most important user interaction ranking factors:

Positives

  • User Browser and Search History
  • Local and transactional searches
  • Featured Snippets

Negatives

  • Copyright infringement
  • Big brands searches
  • Spam-prone searches

144. Query Deserves Freshness: A New York Times article brought to light a score Google called QDF — Query Deserves Freshness. The solution revolves around determining whether a topic is “hot”. If news sites or blog posts are actively writing about a topic, the model figures that it is one for which users are more likely to want current information. This way, newer pages get a boost for certain searches and may even appear as snippets.

145. Query Deserves Diversity: Although never confirmed, the QDD would function similarly for queries related to ambiguous keywords, such as “GDP”, “WWF” or “ruby”. In this case, Google recognizes queries with the potential for multiple intents and shows a diverse set of searches.

146. User Browsing History: This one you can have noticed by yourself: a website that you visit often will get a SERP boost for relevant queries.

147. User Search History: Consecutive related searches, or what we call a search chain, can influence later search results. For example, if you search for “reviews” followed by a “computers” search, Google is more likely to rank computer review websites higher in the SERPs.

148. Featured Snippets: Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google's organic results, right below the ads in a box. Its goal is to answer the user's question right away (hence their other well-known name, "answer boxes").

According to this SEMRush study, Google chooses Featured Snippets content based on a combination of content length, formatting, page authority and HTTPs usage.

149. Geo Targeting: Depending on the query, Google can give preference to sites with a local server IP and country-specific domain name extension.

150. Safe Search: Google’s Safe Search filter automatically blocks results with curse words or adult content. Even if users can turn it on and off, it is fair to say it is something constantly monitored by Google.

151. “YMYL” Keywords: The acronym stands for "Your Money or Your Life", a category Google uses for websites that sell products or provide services or information that can impact the happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.

Google holds these types of sites (and related queries) to the highest standard because the stakes are incredibly high when it comes to this type of content.

152. DMCA Complaints: A DMCA complaint is related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a digital rights law that indicates that an Internet Service Provider (ISP), after receiving notice, must remove any materials from users' websites that appear to represent copyright infringement.

Google is known to downrank pages with DMCA takedown notices.

153. Domain Diversity: The so-called “Bigfoot Update” supposedly added more domains to each SERP page.

154. Transactional Searches: Shopping-related keywords can trigger different results, like flight or hotel searches.

155. Local Searches: Similarly, local searches are often placed by Google above the normal organic results.

156. Top Stories box: A top story box is a mobile SERP feature that is purely organic-driven, mostly related to news pages.

157. Big Brand Preference: With the Vince Update, Google started giving big brands a push for a certain set of keywords.

158. Single Site Results for Brands: Domain or brand-related keywords will bring up several results from the same domain, allowing a single brand to dominate the SERP.

159. Shopping Results: Shopping results can be displayed in organic SERPs.

160. Image Results: Sometimes, Google Images appears in the normal, organic search results.

161. Easter Egg Results: Easter eggs are hidden features or messages, inside jokes, and cultural references inserted into Google. For example, if you search for “Atari Breakout” in Google Images search, the results turn into a playable game.

162. Payday Loans Update: The Payday algorithm update was designed to clean up “very spammy queries“.


Brand Signals

Positives

  • Branded Searches
  • Branded Mentions
  • Branded Anchor Text

Negatives

  • Negative reviews
  • Low Branded CTR

163. Branded Searches: Google understands that people naturally search for brands. This way, if someone searches for your brand in Google, it shows Google that your site is a real brand.

164. Brand + Keyword Searches: Do people search for a particular keyword along with your brand name (for example: “Chili SEO ranking factors” or “Chili SEO”)? If so, Google could trigger a better ranking when people search for the non-branded version of that keyword.

165. Brand Mentions on Top Stories: Really known brands get mentioned on Top Stories very often. As a matter of fact, some brands might even have a feed of news from their own website on the first page.

166. Brand Name Anchor Text: A branded anchor text is an easy — but powerful — brand signal.

167. Unlinked Brand Mentions: Often, brands are mentioned on a piece of content without getting any links. Google likely recognizes unlinked brand mentions as a brand signal.

168. Site Has Facebook Page and Likes: Google expects real brands to have a Facebook page with likes.

169. Site has official Linkedin Company Page: In the same way, real businesses are likely to company Linkedin pages.

170. Site has Twitter Profile with Followers: Twitter profiles with many followers is a cue to popular brands.

171. Legitimacy of Social Media Accounts: From the factors above, we can assume Google considers Social Media accounts legitimacy. For example, an account with 15,000 followers and only 2 posts is probably seen very differently than another 15,000-follower account with lots of interaction. Google even has a patent for calculating whether or not a social media account is real.

172. Known Authorship: In 2013, Google CEO Eric Schmidt claimed:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results.”

173. Brick and Mortar Location: Existent businesses have offices. Google likely fishes for location-data to define whether a website belongs to a big brand or not.


On-Site Webspam Signals

174. Panda Penalty: According to Google, each page of a website should address a specific topic, instead of addressing a slightly different variation of a keyword phrase. Pages and pages of overlapping articles that targeted keywords instead of humans (known as content farms) were hit by the Panda penalty.

175. Links to Bad Neighborhoods: Just like being linked by Bad Neighborhoods (check factor #98), linking to spammy websites also hurts your search visibility.

176. Redirects: Sneaky redirects (also known as cloaking) is a big no-no. It can not only get your site penalized, but also de-indexed.

177. Hiding Affiliate Links: Similarly, trying to hide affiliate links can bring on a penalty.

178. Affiliate Sites: Needless to say, Google isn’t a fan of thin affiliates sites. It’s safe to say that sites that monetize exclusively with affiliate programs are put under extra scrutiny.

179. Popups or “Distracting Ads”: The official Search Quality Raters Guidelines defines popups and distracting ads as a signal of low-quality sites.

180. Interstitial Pop-ups: Interstitial pop-ups cover the content of a page and force users to close it before they continue reading. Google may penalize sites that display these popups to mobile users.

181. Site Over-Optimization: You should always try to optimize your website, but don’t go too far: Google penalizes over-optimized sites. This may include keyword stuffing and header tag stuffing.

182. Meta Tag Spamming: If Google anticipates you’re adding keywords to your title and description meta tags in an effort to game the algorithm, they could penalize your website.

183. Gibberish Content: Believe it or not, Google can recognize gibberish content, as seen in this patent. This technology allows the search engine to filter out auto-generated content from their index.

184. Doorway Pages: The page you show to Google should be the page the users ultimately see. When it redirects people to another page instead, that is considered a “Doorway Page”. As one would expect, Google penalizes Doorway Pages.

185. Ads Above the Fold: The Page Layout Algorithm penalizes sites with too many ads (and not much content) above the fold.

186. Fred: This is a nickname given to a series of Google updates starting in 2017. According to Search Engine Land, Fred targets low-value content sites that put revenue above helping their users.

187. Auto-generated Content: Google understandably hates automatically generated content. If they suspect that your site’s creating content through a computer programme, it could result in a penalty or de-indexing.

188. Excess PageRank Sculpting: PageRank Sculpting is about trying to manipulate your PageRank flow in your website by controlling your link juice flow. Going too far with it — through nofollow attributes on outbound links — could be a sign of tricking the system.

189. IP Address Flagged as Spam: If a server’s IP address is picked out for spam, it could affect all sites on that server.


Off-Site Webspam Signals

190. Hacked Site: When a site gets hacked, it can be dropped from the search results. Search Engine Land, a industry reference for SEO, was mistakenly deindexed for a whole day (and they told us what they learned from the experience)

191. Unnatural Influx of Links: An unexpected and unnatural influx of links is a signal of phony links.

192. Penguin Penalty: The Penguin update was aimed at decreasing rankings of websites that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines. At first, sites hit by it were significantly less visible in search. Today, Penguin focuses more on filtering out bad links instead penalizing entire websites.

193. Link Profile with Low Quality Links: A high percentage of links from sources commonly used by Black Hat SEOs may be a sign of tricking the system.

194. Links From Unrelated Websites: In a similar way, a high-percentage of backlinks from sites with unrelated topics can increase the odds of a manual penalty.

195. Unnatural Links Warning: Google sends thousands of “Google Search Console notice of detected unnatural links” messages. Many times, this precedes a ranking drop.

196. Unnatural Link Spike: Google can identify if an influx of links to a page is legitimate or not. Those unnatural links may become discredited.

197. Google Sandbox: New websites that get an abrupt influx of backlinks can sometimes be put in the Google Sandbox, which temporarily limits search visibility.

198. Low-Quality Directory Links: As determined by Google, backlinks from low-quality directories could lead to penalties.

199. Widget Links: Google frowns upon widget links, those automatically generated when a user embeds a widget to their site (many times unaware of their placement).

200. Links from the Same Class C IP: Getting an unnatural amount of links from sites on the same server IP can show Google your links are coming from a blog network.

201. “Poison” Anchor Texts: A “poison” anchor text pointing to your site may be a sign of spam or a hacked site, which will hurt your site’s ranking.

202. Links From Articles and Press Releases: Articles directories and press releases have been overused to the point that Google often classifies these two link building strategies as a link scheme.

203. Manual Actions: If a site has a manual action, some or all of that site will not be shown in Google search results. There are several types of manual actions reports, most of them related to black hat link building.

204. Selling Links: As seen on the report above, being caught selling links will hurt your search visibility.

205. Google Dance: This is a term used to describe a period when a major index update of Google’s search engine is being implemented. Needless to say, the Google Dance can momentarily shake up rankings. This transition function is described in this patent.

206. Disavow Tool: The disavow tool allows a website owner to deny any responsibility for questionable pages or domains that link to their website. This can be used to pull out a manual or algorithmic penalty for sites that were victims of negative SEO.

207. Reconsideration Request: A successful reconsideration request can lift a penalty.

208. Temporary Link Schemes: Google has caught onto people that create — and quickly remove — spammy links.


Conclusion

Phew, what a list!

We know this is a lot of content to digest, so we summarized the most important Google ranking factors to consider in your SEO strategy in 2021.

  • Referring domains authority;
  • Mobile usability;
  • Organic click-through-rate;
  • Dwell time;
  • On-page SEO;
  • Number of backlinks and their quality;
  • Content quality;

And if you ever need help managing and optimizing all these SEO ranking factors, don’t hesitate to reach out to Chili’s SEO experts team. We can help you identify immediate opportunities to boost your results online.

Obtenha uma sessão de estratégia gratuita de 30 minutos para iniciar suas campanhas de 2021



Nossos estrategistas digitais entrarão em contato com você dentro de 24 horas para marcar um horário!
Nossos estrategistas digitais entrarão em contato com você dentro de 24 horas para marcar um horário!

Sim! Bem vindo a mais potenciais clientes, vendas & êxito online.

Fechar
30 minutes free strategy consultation

Começar

Coloque seus dados

Obrigado!

O seu especialista em marketing digital entrará em contato dentro de 24 horas. Como alternativa, para um bate-papo instantâneo, ligue para +55 11 3500 5967