Google Ranking Factors: Here’s What We Know
By Mike Cynar
What are ranking factors? And, how does Google use them to rank your page? This guide outlines the theory behind these ranking factors and what you can do to improve your site’s SERP positions.
It’s a painstaking process as the internet universe accumulates hundreds, if not thousands of new web pages each day. Google’s algorithm shifts and content becomes outdated, leaving us all behind if we don’t constantly make the proper SEO audits and put out stellar content.
So what exactly is involved in Google’s ranking factors?
Here’s my theory behind Google’s ranking factors and the most critical areas to focus on if you want your web page to rank successfully.
How Does Google Rank Web Pages?
Google uses over 200 ranking factors in deciding where your search engine results pages SERPs belong. For example:
- Backlinks to Site
- Newness of Content
- Topical Authority
- Content Depth
- Website Load Speeds
- Mobile Friendlessness
- Content Relevancy to search query
- Users experience
- Brand signals
- Webspam (on and off-site)
- Domain age
- Keyword(s) in the title tag
The ranking decisions are divvied up among Google’s ever-changing algorithms and its human rankers. That’s right—there are human rankers among us who are thoroughly trained to ensure that each web page follows Google’s strict quality guidelines.
While the spotlight is primarily on producing quality content and checking all the SEO boxes, there’s an underlying blueprint that allows it all the ranking criteria to connect.
That blueprint involves the following factors:
Direct Ranking Factors
To put it simply, a direct ranking factor is something that Google views as a direct influence during a given search performance. Direct ranking factors are stringent, but they range from your HTML coding to the relevancy of your page.
Now, what Google considers relevant is still somewhat of a mystery. However, the more up to date and relevant your content and HTML text, the higher your web page will rank. It sounds simple, but as Google adds more features to its search engine and changes its algorithm, each website’s relevancy remains in flux.
So, the direct ranking factors can be summed up as: Utilizing the top SEO factors that go into ranking a web page and maintaining them to stay relevant.
Indirect Ranking Factors
Just as there are direct ranking factors, there are also indirect ranking factors that come into play. Indirect ranking factors may or may not influence Google’s algorithm. However, they do tend to influence the direct ranking factors. Hang in there—there’s a method to the madness.
One example of an indirect ranking factor is your hosting site and server. Let’s say you started a blog using a cheap hosting service. Your blog takes off and becomes more popular, which means it’s time for you to upgrade to a dedicated hosting server with more RAM and CPU that can handle a higher volume of incoming traffic.
Here’s the thing: Google doesn’t directly measure your web page’s speed.
However, your web page’s speed and load time directly influence direct ranking factors, such as the user experience. If your web pages are slow to load, it affects your click-through rate, i.e., the user experience. If your audience is consistently clicking out of your page due to slow load times, Google’s algorithm will pick up on that and push your page further down the ranks.
The same goes for using social media platforms to advertise your brand. Google doesn’t notice how many followers you may have on Instagram. Still, it will pick up on the article you’re promoting on Facebook—if it’s getting backlinked by other accredited websites.
So, to simplify it all, we can say that indirect ranking factors are the factors that influence the direct ranking factors rather than Google’s algorithm. It’s a bit of tongue twister but it makes sense if you repeat it enough times.
Emergent Ranking Factors
With the addition of Google’s newer search features also came the additional machine learning to make the algorithm more accurate. That means many different metrics come into play when addressing your web page as essentially relevant or irrelevant.
Before these metrics, web pages with domains that had strong link authority made waves despite not having quality content and backlinks. Additionally, multiple individual factors form a web page’s layout. For example, if you’ve ever opened a web page and noticed that text pops up but then shifts as ads begin to load one by one, you’ve experienced one of the many individual factors that affect a page’s layout.
Think of your domain authority as the skeleton of your website. If you have broken bones or missing bones, your body won’t move right. Your bones are individually grouped, and while one may determine how another performs, some have nothing to do with each other.
These are your emerging ranking factors.
Your emerging ranking factors change as your page layouts, and Google’s metrics change. You can almost think of them as indirect factors squared, as they indirectly affect the indirect ranking factors which affect the direct ranking factors which influence Google’s algorithm. Another tongue twister, but it had to be said.
Validating Ranking Factors
Google suggests that it doesn’t care about E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust) when it actually appears that they do care. While there are no specific metrics that target E-A-T, Google’s algorithm does evaluate your SERPs based on those three essentials.
Despite the evaluation, E-A-T does not indirectly or directly influence Google’s algorithm in any way, shape, or form. It does, however, influence user engagement. That’s why we refer to these factors as validating ranking factors.
There are certain industries where expertise, authority, and trust are absolutely vital. These industries have a loyal following as they put out that top-notch content that’s widely agreed upon as the king of its subject matter. The audience validates these web pages, which forces Google to validate the site’s ranking factors.
Ipso-facto, user engagement becomes a key SEO factor. We have no tongue twisters for this, it is what it is.
Correlation Ranking Factors
As we’ve mentioned, social media platforms aren’t something Google cares about. However, your audience cares about social media, which is the very thing that can lead them to your website. Adversely, your website can also lead your audience to your social media pages.
We know what you’re thinking—but social media “likes” don’t correlate to higher rankings. What does correlate are shares and backlinks. Hence, your correlation ranking factors. Many metrics come into play here, making your correlation ranking factors even more indirect than the previous three ranking factors.
There are tons of ways to link to content between the different platforms and your website. You also have to worry about broken plug-ins that don’t allow users to easily share your content on their social media with the click of a button.
They’re kind of like the corn maze of ranking factors since you’re essentially using your social media platforms to guide your audience in a certain direction. That direction, however, is like a fork in the road and you want everyone to travel each path, which is to your website and to share your content. Of course, there are many ways to come to the same conclusion here because they can start at either end, get lost backtracking, or give up before making their way out.
So while correlation ranking factors may be a thin veil of influence, they still generate value through your user engagement. If you can lead your audience in the right direction, that is.
The Most Critical Google Ranking Criteria
Now that you know the blueprint of Google’s entire ranking operation, you can zero in on the essential criteria with a revised game plan.
Here’s what to focus on:
If users can’t use the information they find or can’t find the information they’re looking for, it becomes irrelevant. That’s why content is king in terms of Google ranking criteria.
It’s also more than just selecting the perfect keyword. It’s also about keeping user intent in mind. You want your content to be as up to date as possible, match the user intent, and match the keyword to be considered high-quality.
Backlinks come from other sites referencing your content via hyperlink. When an authoritative website links to your content, it signals to Google that you’re one of the cool kids. You will be rewarded for this in terms of how your site ranks, but be wary, low-quality backlinks are also a thing and they can and will hurt you.
Remember, your domain authority is indicative of your site’s bones. Your site’s bones are affected by these variables:
- The age of your domain
- Your total number of links
- Your domain popularity
- The size of your domain
Basically, you want your site to have life experience, be well-maintained, and trustworthy—just like your body.
We use our phones for everything, and Google knows it. Make sure your site is optimized for mobile and smart devices—because It’s all about that positive user experience.
Title tags, header tags, readability, quality, URLs, ALT-image tags, meta tags—everything on your page and within your content must be fully optimized for search engine rankings. That includes all of the above and then some.
Follow Google’s Guidelines
Now you have a better understanding of Google’s ranking factors, thanks to our blueprint schematics. Remember, Google’s goal is to serve up the best content possible to its users, and its algorithm and ranking factors will change accordingly with the bulk of the users’ intent.
So, clean up your bones, untwist your tongue, and go after that higher ranking. Oh, and if you need some help with all that, just contact us. We’re experts in SEO and Google ranking factors.