TOP Google Ranking Factors
Google displays the “best results” on the first page, but what drives the search engine to make such a selection?
Let’s look at the ranking factors that can improve a website’s position in SERPs.
1. What Is SERP?
Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPs, are what we get in response to a query on Google.
Depending on their query, users may get organic search results, paid Google Ads or Google Shopping results, Featured Snippet block, Knowledge Graphs blocks, or links to videos as shown in the image below.
Overall, Google has more than a dozen different SERP features, and it’s important to understand how the search engine shows results for a particular query.
For example, your company is engaged in repairing apartments, and you want your service website to appear on the first page. We look at the results for the query “apartment repair” and see that you have to compete with the snippet that displays the location of competing companies.
There is another interesting point: you can appear on the first page of Google search results but not get traffic to your website. The cause is, again, snippets.
We enter the query “when dinosaurs were alive” and get the following picture:
You can get all the information you need right from the snippet. Moreover, you can even find out when dinosaurs became extinct. And you don’t have to navigate to any other website to find it out.
Statistics for the beginning of 2023 show that the number of zero-click searches is increasing. But things aren’t all bad; first place in search still matters and brings in a lot more traffic:
- 64.82% of Google searches ended up without clicks.
- 33.59% of clicks in 2023 were driven by organic search results (the ones we chase by customizing SEO).
- Paid ads in search garnered only 1.59% of clicks.
- On average, first place in Google’s organic results generated 38.16% of the clicks from all organic results, and the 10th result garnered only 3.10% of clicks.
As you can see, being ranked first in Google’s search results will bring you 10 times more traffic than those who are ranked 10th. SEO still matters, while paid advertising in search has obviously bored users.
2. Why Is It Important to Analyze Top Positions in SERPs?
We are going to talk about analyzing the strategies of websites with a high ranking in search. If you understand what they are doing right, you will find new optimization strategies to improve the position of your resource.
Here are a few reasons to take search engine ranking analysis seriously. This process will help you to:
- Identify new keywords and sources of backlinks.
- Find original ideas for content.
- Determine missing keywords that will help you rank better.
- Analyze high-ranking websites and discover your competitive advantages.
- Find ways to optimize content to get into snippets.
- Improve content structure (use of tags, markup, bulleted lists, etc.).
Analysis of search results is an essential part of any SEO strategy, and it is better to start with an understanding of the factors that determine the resource’s ranking in the TOP search.
3. The Main Google Ranking Factors
Google is believed to use over 200 factors to determine where and how pages appear in search results. The ranking factors are constantly changing as the search engine evolves, adjusting its algorithm to provide the most accurate and relevant results.
In this article, we’ll review the most essential factors that are relevant today.
3.1. Linking factors
Backlinks are among the key elements of successful SEO. Links from authoritative websites show Google that the resource is trusted by other platforms, which helps it rank higher in search results. This philosophy was the basis for Google’s creation in the 1990s, and links are still essential.
3.1.1. Link anchors
Anchor text is the keywords used in the text of a link. The more descriptive and concise it is, the better the link will look. Google search crawler determines the context based on the words in the anchor.
You should avoid over-optimization when using anchors. If all anchors in backlinks contain your company name or exact keywords, Google may suspect that such links are paid and impose penalties.
Specialists from Moz recommend adhering to the 7:3 ratio, i.e. 7 out of 10 backlinks should contain general text (“this website,” “read here,” etc.), and only 3 should include the name of your brand or keywords relevant to your project.
3.1.2. Website authority
Google prefers that links to the website come from authoritative domains. Let’s remind you that domain authority (DA) is a search engine ranking index developed by Moz, with a rating scale ranging from 1 to 100. Simply put, the more other resources link to a website, the higher its authority (e.g., wikipedia.com).
By getting backlinks from reliable sources (with a large DA), you can raise the authority of your resource, and for Google, such links will have more authority than others.
3.1.3. Link mass growth rate
When building backlinks, you should remember that an unexpected boost in the number of backlinks to your website will make Google think you bought or exchanged links, which can lead to penalties.
According to Google, “backlinks should appear naturally, along with the buildup of content on your website.” In practice, this is difficult because organic backlinks appear very slowly. If you have a new resource, do not drastically increase the number of backlinks. You should also maintain a smooth growth of link mass, without sudden jumps or declines.
3.1.4. Donor and acceptor niche
Links from domains in a similar niche will help rank better. On the other hand, Google penalizes sites with a large number of links from irrelevant domains — such behavior is perceived by the search engine as manipulation with backlinks.
There is even such a concept as Topical Authority. If you sell food, it is quite normal to get backlinks from websites with recipes, which is not the case, for example, for websites that sell software or review electronics.
One more point: SEO specialists could previously use links from press releases or articles to build their backlink profile. However, due to misuse, Google now considers a large number of such backlinks as an attempt to manipulate rankings. The same applies to links from forums, so they should not be overused either.
3.1.5. Donor age, location
The age of the domains linking to you is considered essential. Backlinks from older domains probably help promote better than younger ones.
As for domain regional affiliation, getting links from top-level country-specific domain extensions (.ua, .de, .cn, .co.uk) can help rank higher in that country. If you want to promote in China, take care of links from .cn domains, in Spain — .es.
3.2. Domain factors
The strength of a domain name is a powerful SEO ranking factor. The more credible it is, the more often Google will show it in response to relevant search queries.
3.2.1. Domain age/history
Many SEO experts believe that search engines trust older domains more. Nevertheless, John Mueller from Google stated on his Twitter that the age of a domain does not affect anything.
However, the date of purchase of a domain can matter. As a rule, the domains intended for different kinds of frauds are purchased for one year only. Consequently, domains older than one year are less suspicious to Google.
But what you should definitely pay attention to is the history of the domain. If you’re going to buy someone else’s domain, check it through a name search or Google cache and make sure it hasn’t been used for various manipulations. If a domain has been penalized, restrictions won’t be removed when you replace content or change ownership, and you will need to work hard to get rid of the “bad history.”
3.2.2. Domain Zone/Name
A top-level domain with a country code (.cn, .pt, .ca) can sometimes help a website rank in that particular country. But it can also limit a website’s global ranking. If you want to enter the global marketplace, buy .com. If it is taken, think of another name or buy .biz, .net, etc., which have no regional connection.
Some time ago, it was very popular to buy so-called Exact Match Domains (EMD or Keyword Domains), which included a popular keyword search term. After a series of updates to the Google algorithm, such naming for a domain ceased to be of any use.
Therefore, just choose a vacant name relevant to the topic of your business. It is believed that the length of a domain URL should not exceed 50-60 characters, any more than that is too cumbersome and will not rank well.
3.2.3. Number of pages in the index
It is logical to assume that the more pages a website contains, the better for SEO because you can rank for a greater number of queries. But actually, it is not the case. A large number of pages with similar content can lead to traffic cannibalization and harm SEO.
John Mueller (Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google), replying to a question on Reddit, confirmed the information that a greater number of pages does not improve SEO positions.
In fact, it’s content quality that matters. There have been cases when large websites reduced the number of pages and got more traffic. But the secret is not in the number of pages but in the fact that they removed unnecessary content and began to combine similar content.
Google penalties are something you have to be extremely careful with. If a domain is ever marked as spammy, this will negatively affect its ranking and position in SERPs. Even if you try to recover the website and remove penalties, Google may still continue to treat it with distrust.
One more aspect: if the website owner is blacklisted by Google for spamming or manipulating the search engine algorithm, other resources may also be affected. That is because of Whois entries, which indicate who owns a particular resource.
3.3. Behavioral factors
Google has RankBrain, an artificial intelligence algorithm that measures how users interact with search results. Let’s look at some factors that depend on user behavior.
3.3.1. Branded traffic
Direct traffic (when you click on the link in the bookmarks or website URL in the browser bar), as well as branded traffic (when you search by company or product name), positively affects the ranking of a web resource.
It’s been confirmed that Google uses data from Google Chrome to determine how many people visit a website (and how often). Websites with a lot of direct and branded traffic are considered of higher quality compared to those that receive little traffic of such kind. The same applies to repeat traffic — repeated visits from the same user.
3.3.2. Time of stay on the website
This factor is simple: the more time the user spends on the page, the better. Google pays close attention to this aspect, quite reasonably assuming that if the content is relevant to the request, people will stay on the page longer.
3.3.3. Bounce rate
Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of visitors who leave a web page without taking any action (clicking on a link, filling out a form, adding an item to the cart, etc.). And this is the case when Google representatives say that this indicator doesn’t affect the website’s ranking, but SEO experts prove the opposite based on tests.
In 2017, experts from SEMrush conducted a study of more than 600,000 keywords and proved that the bounce rate is an important factor when it comes to ranking.
The average bounce rate is considered between 41% and 51%, but it is very dependent on the niche. For example, for e-commerce websites, it can be 20-45%, and for blogs — 65-90%.
3.3.4. CTR (clickability) of a snippet
CTR (click-through rate) is the ratio of clicks on the search snippet to the total number of views. Let’s say a web page was shown in search 150 times, but only 15 people clicked on the link. The CTR of that page would be 10%.
According to Google, pages that get more clicks may get a boost in SERPs for that particular search query.
3.3.5. Audience location
Google tries to offer localized search results, so it gives preference to websites with IP addresses from the same country as the user who sent the request.
3.4. Text factors
These factors are among the most promising for optimization because they allow content creators to present real value to their audience. If the content is quality and designed according to search engine requirements, Google will treat you better.
3.4.1. Content relevance
Since the launch of the Hummingbird and RankBrain updates, Google has taken the ranking factors beyond keywords. What’s important now is not just the repetition of keywords but the use of synonyms, words, and terms closely related to the keyword you want to rank for. This approach will help raise your rankings in search results.
3.4.2. Headings (H1-H6)
The H1 tag of a page is an opportunity to add keywords. It doesn’t necessarily work as a ranking signal for Google, although it does send a signal of relevance to the search engine and the visitors to your page. Today, when using HTML5, multiple H1 tags are allowed.
Keywords in H2 and H3 tags can also signal page relevance to Google and visitors, although they are not as influential as H1 tags. You can also include the main keyword or related words and phrases in them.
3.4.3. Title and Description
Title tags can also include keywords, which will also help rank well. Try to include no more than 60 characters in the title; otherwise, it will be cut off when shown in search. It is better to place the keyword closer to the beginning of the title.
Google no longer uses keywords in the description meta tag as a ranking factor. But since this description is still displayed in search, you should include relevant and attractive text for users.
3.4.4. Content uniqueness
The presence of 100% unique content on a page indicates to Google that the page provides original content, which is an important ranking factor. Whereas content created automatically is often penalized by loss of positions in search results.
3.4.5. Text literacy
Although it is not a direct ranking factor, proper grammar is thought to correlate with higher page rankings and reputation. In addition, a document from Google called Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines often mentions spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
The way you structure your content can also affect your website’s position in search results. For example, if you include a table of contents or numbered lists in an article, some SERPs may use these data as additional links or snippets, which can positively impact click-through rates (CTRs) and organic traffic.
3.4.7. Language matching
Google gives detailed recommendations on how to manage multiregional and multilingual websites in the Advanced SEO section in Google Search Central. So, we can conclude that language belongs to ranking factors.
If you want to reach people who speak Russian, content must be written in Russian. But the same content (in Russian) will rank poorly in markets dominated by English, Chinese, or German. If you want to cover several language groups, create content in different languages.
3.4.8. Optimizing text with LSI and synonyms
Latent semantic indexing keywords (LSI) help Google understand the context of your page. For example, a search engine will be able to understand if the page describes a key for a lock, a key for an auto mechanic, or a key as an essential aspect of something.
You should use synonyms for the main keyword and LSI keywords in the Title and Description tags. As a ranking factor, they are not confirmed, but they will definitely help Google determine the relevance of texts.
3.5. Technical factors
If you want to maintain a strong position in search results, you must make sure that the website works as a well-oiled mechanism for both search engines and users.
3.5.1. Server response codes
If a website frequently fails, it may have ranking problems. If the site is down for a few hours or even a day, there won’t be a problem, but if it is unavailable for a few weeks, the resource’s search ranking can drop significantly.
How does Google know if the website is working or not? By response codes from the server: the working website returns a code in the form of 2xx, the website with problems – 4xx or 5xx.
3.5.2. Page loading speed
Loading speed is also an important SEO ranking factor. If a website is not fast enough, it can lose its position in search results. To see how certain pages perform from Google’s perspective, you can check them with the Google PageSpeed Insights tool.
3.5.3. Duplicates and redirects
It is believed that links with 301 redirects may lose some effectiveness compared to a direct link, but Google experts do not confirm this information. But duplicate content on the same website (even slightly changed) can negatively affect the website’s visibility in search engines. You should remove duplicates or use the Rel=Canonical tag.
3.5.4. HTTPS (SSL certificate)
The Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate provides the website’s URL with a secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTPS) designation, which shows users that the resource is secure. Google has confirmed that it uses HTTPS/SSL as a ranking factor.
3.5.5. Optimization for mobile devices
Mobile usability and responsive design are now ranking factors for Google. Websites not optimized for mobile devices can lose positions in search engine rankings.
4. How to Check Your Website’s Position in Search Engines?
So, there are plenty of factors affecting the website’s position in search results. But how to check it to understand whether a resource requires optimization?
4.1. Checking manually
Please note: the manual method is not trustworthy, but if you want to try it, you should first exit all applications, extensions, or Google add-ons. Then simply type into Google a keyword related to the page you want to analyze.
Remember, even if you get satisfactory results, they are not completely reliable because of many factors, such as geolocation, which can drastically change search results. Incognito mode is not going to change the situation drastically. In addition, such a check is time-consuming, and it is simply impossible to check the ranking for multiple keywords.
4.2. Google Search Console
It’s much easier to check the website’s position using Google Search Console. Just go to the service, select Performance, and then — Search results. Once you select a timeframe, you get a chart illustrating the total number of clicks, impressions, and your average CTR and position in search results for the selected period.
In addition, you can check the keywords for which the website is displayed and develop an appropriate strategy to take full advantage of their potential.
5. Popular Services for Checking Website Positions
There are plenty of services that can simplify the process of checking website positions and indicate to you what actions you should take to improve them.
Ahrefs is a popular tool that can help you check the website’s position on Google. To use it, go to the Organic Keywords tab on the left. Then enter your URL into the search bar at the top of the page:
You’ll see a list of organic keywords for which your website is displayed, along with their search volumes, complexity, price per click, and traffic.
SEMrush is a useful tool that can help you solve a lot of SEO tasks. To check a website’s position, just open the Organic Research tab and specify the address of the domain you want to check.
In addition, you can analyze individual subdomains, pages, and even competitors.
Serpstat is an excellent service from the Ukrainian team of developers, which has more than 30 tools, including tracking keyword positions. It allows you to check both global and local positions of any domain in Google.
You can track both organic and advertising keyword rankings, set up automatic ranking reports, track the search share of analyzed keywords, cluster keywords by tags, etc.
RankWatch is an SEO management platform that provides information on current search positions, the possibility of auditing your website and backlinks, traffic analysis, and much more. Using the service, you can monitor your search engine positions on a daily basis — there are no problems with Ukrainian locations, and you can even select individual regional centers.
The trial version allows you to monitor the positions of 50 search queries.
Although Mangools services are paid, you can use a 10-day trial version to evaluate their features. To check the search results for any query, select the SERPCheker tool. Enter the location (unfortunately, Ukraine is not on the list of countries), the desired query, and click Analyze SERP.
With another tool from the same developer — SERPWatcher — you can monitor the position of keywords in the search. But you cannot select the Ukrainian location, only the U.S., France, Germany, Spain, and the UK.
Other Mangools tools will help you analyze backlinks and conduct keyword research (unfortunately, queries in Ukrainian and Russian are not available).
6. What to Consider When Analyzing the TOP and Dashboards in SEO?
How not to get confused by hundreds of different ranking factors? How to keep track of dozens of parameters? To find the answers to these questions, use special dashboards.
SEO Dashboard is a tool that collects all your SEO data and presents them as an analytical report giving you a quick idea of what is currently happening with your website or a competitor’s resource.
To determine the most important metrics, you must know your SEO goals. Below is a list of key metrics that most SEO professionals use:
- Organic traffic — the number of website visitors attracted via SEO.
- Keyword ranking — the top positions for the target keywords for which the website and landing pages are ranked.
- Visibility in search — the percentage of clicks for each keyword you rank for.
- Click-through rate (CTR) — the percentage of visitors who click on a search result divided by the total number of impressions.
- Bounce rate — how many visitors come to your website but immediately leave without interacting with the page.
- Website speed — search engines give preference to pages with a higher loading speed.
- Backlinks — the number of links from other domains to your resource.
If this list is not enough, you can add your dashboard with other indicators.
One more piece of information for you to think about. According to experts from FirstPageSage, which has been studying Google algorithms for 13 years, the influence of different ranking factors changes every year: the importance of some of them is weakening, while others become more essential. Here’s what the distribution of the importance of key ranking factors looks like at the beginning of 2023:
7. What Should You Know About KPI in SEO?
Dashboards actually allow you to track KPIs in SEO — quantitative values used to measure the effectiveness of SEO team’s efforts and performance. This gives a deeper understanding of your resource’s search engine ranking and visibility, as well as the conversions that can be attributed to organic performance.
Here are a few reasons why it’s important to track KPI in SEO:
- To measure the return on investment in SEO. So you can find out how your SEO efforts impact your company’s revenue and profits.
- To identify opportunities for improvement. As the saying goes, if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it.
- To measure progress toward your goals. Goals in SEO should be consistent with the overall goals and objectives of your business.
- To prioritize SEO activities. When you measure the right metrics, you can determine what’s working and what’s not. This way, you have data and the opportunity to focus on issues leading to the best results.
8. Google Updates and SEO
Google claims to update its search algorithm several thousand times a year. In the vast majority of cases, Google’s algorithm updates are too minor to be noticed. But every once in a while, Google makes such fundamental adjustments that they change the approach to SEO forever. Here they are:
- Panda (February 24, 2011). The update concerned content duplication and plagiarism, stuffing texts with keywords. A quality score was introduced for the first time.
- Penguin (April 24, 2012). The algorithm downgraded websites with unnatural-looking backlinks (over-optimized anchor text, etc.). Since that time, Google started to fight with paid backlinks.
- Hummingbird (August 22, 2013). Google began using natural language processing based on hidden semantic indexing. Pages that did not contain a direct keyword but were relevant to the topic of the query could appear in search results.
- Mobile (April 21, 2015). This and subsequent updates in 2018 and 2020 shifted the focus to the mobile version of the website. Websites not adapted for mobile devices lose rankings in search.
- RankBrain (October 26, 2015). The algorithm was an extension of Hummingbird and expanded the understanding of the broad context of texts. Google became better at understanding synonyms, related words, and personal search history.
- Medic (May 4, 2018). Affected medical websites as well as resources related to decisions that could potentially change a user’s life (finance, law, education). It was an attempt to encourage website owners to publish expert content.
- Bert (October 22, 2019). This is the culmination of an effort initiated in the Hummingbird and RankBrain updates. The update allows Google to understand much more nuances in both queries and search results. It’s a continuation of the fight against low-quality content.
The work on algorithm updates is ongoing. For example, in 2021, the Page Experience score was launched, which takes into account many indicators affecting user interaction with a web resource. Link Spam Update reassessed the link profile, and Product Reviews Update (April 2021) should help reviews and product feedback to rank better in search.
When trying to improve search engine rankings, you can eventually conclude that you can please Google by following three basic rules:
- Publish quality articles with clear content that answer user questions in detail.
- Manage a website that demonstrates expertise and authority in a particular area of knowledge/topic.
- Maintain the resource in a state that makes it easy for visitors to navigate and is user-friendly and fast on any modern device.
Even if Google will make adjustments to its algorithms and specific ranking factors, most of them are still all about the rules listed above. By following them, you will definitely succeed in your search promotion.