The Google Ranking Factors That Matter In 2024

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There isn’t an official list of Google ranking factors.

But:

We do know a lot about the signals that Google use to rank sites accordingly.

This information comes from a combination of:

  • Official sources
  • Case studies
  • Experience
  • My own personal experimentation

While it is impossible to know if the list of Google ranking factors below is complete…

I can say with great confidence that the vast majority of them are covered.

But if the reason you’re reading this post is to increase your search traffic, you should just take the free 28 Day SEO challenge which will guide you step by step.

It is also important to note that not all of the below are strictly ranking signals.

Some of them are indexing/crawling signals which are part of the overall search process.

It’s important to note that Google doesn’t look at just 1 ranking signal.

They tend to ‘stack signals’ to build a bigger picture.

I have broken down all the known Google ranking factors into their respective categories

AND

Whether they are a positive or negative factor.

Domain Ranking Factors

This is a list Google ranking factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively at a domain level. This is one of the most important categories in ranking factors.

Here’s a quick list of the most important domain ranking factors:

Positives

Negatives

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

Take a look at the full list of positive and negative Domain ranking factors that may affect your rankings below-

+ Positive Domain Ranking Factors

#1 – Exact Match Domain

Exact match domains or EMD’s as they are known, used to rank very easily.

What Is An Exact Match Domain?

However Google cracked down on this with the EMD update.

You still get a small amount of benefit from an exact match domain. But now you have an extra quality layer (patent) to please with your site… thanks to the EMD update!

#2 – Keywords In Domain

A domain containing a keyword doesn’t help you rank any higher than a branded domain.

Although having a keyword in your domain may help people searching better understand what your website is about therefore encouraging more clicks from relevant people.

#3 – Domain History

The history of your domain also has an impact on how your site performs.

If the domain has been in trouble with Google in the past through link spam or bad neighbourhoods it will be harder to rank. Take a look at what Google check for.

Click here to learn how to check your domain ownership history & historic domain authority.

#4 – Domain Age

John Mueller has confirmed through Twitter that whether you have an old domain or a brand new domain –

 It will not affect your ranking in Google’s search results. 

But older domains tend to have more backlinks, which DOES have an impact.

Learn more about how to use aged domains for SEO.

#5 – Domain Registration Date

In a patent filing Google said-

The date that a domain with which a document is registered may be used as an indication of the inception date of the document.

Google

#6 – Domain Renewal Date

In the same patent they also said-

Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. 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 and, thus, the documents associated therewith.

Google

#7 – Country TLD Extension

Having a cTLD like a .es domain does help with geo-targeting indication.

But at the same time, it doesn’t mean they are inherently easier to rank in their target country. You could rank a .com in the Spanish Google just as easily.

Negative Domain Ranking Factors

#1 – Private Whois Data

Having private Whois data on its own isn’t a problem.

Matt Cutt’s originally suggested that private Whois data can be combined with other factors as a negative signal.

But John Mueller recently clarified that it’s ok to use especially in Europe. Private whois data is certainly used to identify patterns in blog networks so pay attention!

#2 – Penalized Whois Owner

I cannot find any official Google reference for this…

But there are a couple of examples where it seems the Whois owner is penalised.

Granted the examples I have seen were extreme examples of abuse from 2 well known SEO’s and Google wiped out every single web property whether it was abused or not.

However this is far from confirmed officially.

#3 – Country TLD Extension

Where the cTLD will count as a negative signal is if you have a Spanish domain but are trying to rank it in the Russian market. But the domain extension on its own isn’t enough.

If you put Russian content on a Spanish domain it will rank in Russia.

#4 – Parked Domain

If you have a parked domain Google are actively removing them from their index after the parked domains update.

#5 – Same URL Parameters & Same Shared Hosting

Two domains that are on shared hosting and the same URL parameters, Google will assume they are the same. Ensure you have different URL parameters to avoid this.

#6 – Changing Hosting Provider

The reasons for changing your hosting provider may outweigh this negative factor.

But, you should still be aware that when changing your provider Google will temporarily reduce your crawl rate.

This is because it cannot yet figure out what load the server can stand.

#7 – 503 Status Missuse

If you keep a 503 status in place over a few days Google may think that the site will not be put back up. They will also reduce your crawl rate.

Then the crawling will stop completely if a robots.txt file request is returned 503.

#8 – Google Sandbox

Newly launched websites on brand-new domains may experience a temporary ranking suppression known as the “Google Sandbox effect”.

The Google sandbox is a temporary filter that Google places on new websites for the first 3 to 6+ months. Regardless of your SEO – The website won’t rank well for keywords during this time.

To avoid the Google sandbox, use an expired domain or purchase an aged domain from a marketplace like ODYS.

It really is that simple!

While Google has never formally confirmed the Google sandbox, many SEOs have run independent tests and found evidence to support it.

google ranking factors: domains

Page Level Ranking Factors

A list of page level factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively. These factors effect where abouts each page ranks in Google.

Here’s a quick list of the most important page level ranking factors:

Positives

  • URL Contains Keyword
  • Title Tag Contains Keyword
  • Meta Description Contains Keyword

Negatives

  • Duplicate Meta Descriptions
  • Duplicate Title Tags
  • Underscores In Title Tags

Below I have broken out all of the different page ranking factors you need to consider from an SEO perspective.

+ Positive Page Ranking Factors

#1 – URL Contains Keyword

John Mueller has confirmed that including your keyword in your URL is a ranking factor.

Include your keyword in your URL

BUT:

It is a very small factor that would not be worth your time in restructuring your site for.

#2 – Title Tag Contains Keyword

Having keywords in your title tags is a massive help to your SEO.

It gives Google a clear indication of what your content is about and also helps to increase relevance when users are searching for your keyword.

#3 – Meta Description Contains Keyword

You should include keywords in your meta descriptions. Just like with your title tags, it helps Google see what the topic of your content is.

Use keywords in meta descriptions

WARNING: Do not confuse meta description with meta keywords.

#4 – H1 Tag Contains Keyword

The H1 tag is a strong signal for Google. You should take advantage of this and ensure you include your target keyword.

#5 – Other Headings Contain Keyword

Having your keyword present in other headings such as your H2 or H3 tags will also help.

However…

It is much better to use these headers to include LSI keywords and avoid over optimising.

#6 – Main Body Content Contains Keyword

You should mention your target keyword a couple of times in your contents main body.

This will help improve relevancy.

#7 – Keyword Order

The order of your keywords also has a small impact.

For example someone searching for ‘download antivirus software’ will see different results than someone searching for ‘antivirus software download’.

Even though the intent is the same.

#8 – LSI Keywords

Latent Semantic Indexing keywords help search engines work out the exact topic.

For example ‘Orange’ could be:

  • Orange the colour
  • Orange the fruit
  • Orange the mobile phone network

You should include LSI keywords in your title, description and main content.

This helps Google index & understand the topic of your page better.

#9 – Site Speed

We know that if you speed up website load time, you will rank higher.

The rendering & loading time are specifically relevant.

Average response time for a site should be somewhere around 100ms.

Faster websites provide a better user experience, increases engagement & converts more.

#10 – Unique Content

Having unique content across your entire site is a strong quality signal.

Make sure content is original and not duplicated. Whether it is a blog post or a product descriptipnmake sure your content is unique.

#11 – Length Of Content

Longer content ranks better & converts better period. The average content length for sites in the top 10 is at least 2,000 words.

Longer content attracts more:

  • Engagement
  • Links
  • Social Signals

Oh… and it converts better.

#12 – Table Of Contents

Including a table of contents (TOC) in your content will improve user experience and help Google understand the structure of your content.

clickable table of content exmple

Use appropriate headings in your TOC to help people quickly find the information they are looking for.

#13 – Schema / Rich Snippet Markup

Rich snippets can be added to your SERP’s to make them more attractive.

And you can add it easily with RankMath (read my Rank Math review and see why I consider it as the best SEO plugin for WordPress) or Yoast SEO.

What Are Rich Snippets?

Once setup this will spoon feed data to Google which is then shown in the SERPS.

This will help to attract a higher click-through rate and more traffic from Google.

Note: Don’t forget to check the quality of your schema with a schema tester.

#14 – Multimedia

Having unique images and videos to support your main content is a quality signal. I recommend investing in a good graphics design team who will produce unique images.

#15 – Image Optimisation

Google will also look at your usage of images. Make sure that you use your keyword in the file name and the alt text.

But don’t over optimise by including your keyword in everything such as:

  • File name
  • Alt text
  • Title tag
  • Description tag

Check out this image SEO guide and infographic by SEO Sherpa to learn the exact steps for optimising images for search engines.

#16 – Exif Data

Exif stands for “exchangeable image file format”.

It’s metadata embedded in images containing extra information about the image like:

  • Where it was taken
  • camera settings use
  • Timestamps

And more. Google uses the Exif metadata to better understand and rank the images in the search results.

Think of Exif data like a hidden Google ranking factor that can significantly impact your rankings.

Check out my image SEO guide to learn more about Exif data.

#17 – Fresh Content

Way back in 2010 Google released the Caffeine update. This was designed to return fresher and more up to date results.

This was a significant shift in how Google indexes the web and favours fresher content.

#18 – Updated Content

Updating older content will also see a positive impact.

You need to do a little more than just changing the date though. Google is looking for significant updates to content in order to label them as ‘fresh’.

#19 – Updated Dates

Freshness is a part of Google’s search algorithm.

Regularly updating the content on your website tells Google that your site is providing fresh and relevant information.

Update your content every 9-12 months and make sure that you display the updated date on the page.

This will prompt Google to re-crawl your content and reevaluate its rankings in the SERPs.

Note: Simply changing the “updated date” without updating any content won’t improve SEO.

You need to add new content, remove irrelevant content and make sure your article answers the search intent.

#20 – Outbound Links

Although outbound links have been widely believed as a ranking factor this is not the case.

Having outbound links on your site could add value to your own content which Google may view positively but the links themselves are not a ranking factor.

John Mueller explains this in his Q&A video.

#21 – Internal Links

Just like external links affect your rankings so do internal links as well.

More specifically the number of internal links and quality of those pointing to a given page on your site. It was shown just how important internal links are on ranking.

#22 – Syndicated Content

A lot of people are terrified of posting syndicated content. This is in case they get flagged for duplicate content. However there are a couple of bits of advice.

Syndicating content is fine, but make sure you are linking back to the original source and pray the syndicated content doesn’t outrank you.

#23 – Supplementary Content

Having supplementary content is a strong quality signal.

The 2014 version of the Google Quality Rater Guidelines make this very clear.

Google provides the example that a recipe page might have a feature to multiply or divide the recipe based on how many people you are serving.

#24 – Reading Level

Google measure the reading level of pages and label them as either:

  • Basic
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

You can access this by doing a search…

Then clicking on search tools > all results > reading level.

reading-level

As you can see my site is ‘basic’ but it still ranks very well. It doesn’t appear that Google are using this as an active signal – but they certainly have the data.

#25 – W3C Validation

W3C code validation is not a ranking factor period.

#26 – Domain Authority

The overall authority of the domain also has an impact on how your page ranks.

Assuming everything is equal the page on the more authoritative domain will rank higher.

This is something I see with my own authority sites where they have what I call ‘page 1 pull’ where I can publish an article and have it appear on page 1 for its target keywords.

#27 – Keyword At The Start Of Title Tag

Moz’s data shows that title tags that begin with a keyword…

Outperform those with the keyword at the end of the tag.

put your keyword at the start of the title tag

So when publishing new content, ensure you have your title tag optimised with your keyword at the beginning. This really does make a difference.

#28 – Keyword Frequency

Your keyword should be the most frequently used phrase within your article.

There is no super special keyword density secret but you should make sure that it appears more than other words or phrases. Also keeping it natural.

#29 – Rel=Canonical

Google may use this tag to identify a particular piece of content as not duplicate.

But you should be aware – they may choose to ignore it! So it’s better not to rely soly on the canonical tag!

#30 – Historical Page Updates

Google may not only be tracking the recency of content updates…

But how often these updates are occurring.

Updating your content-

  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Annually

…could have a strong influence on how a page ranks.

#31 – Size Of Content Update

How much content you’ve changed could also influence ranking.

Updating:

  • Whole paragraphs
  • Images
  • Links

…is way more noticeable than just updating the grammar in a sentence.

#32 – Outbound Link Theme

Moz’s research suggests that the theme the link points too can influence your relevancy.

Linking to pages that don’t tie with the content’s theme could cause problems. This is because it could add doubt to the topic of your content.

Negative Page Ranking Factors

#1 – Duplicate Meta Descriptions

John Mueller says that having duplicate meta descriptions aren’t really a problem.

Which is backed up by Yoast’s study which show’s a lot of the time Google actually using sentences from the beginning of your content as the meta descriptions.

So you should optimise the first paragraph of content with your meta description in mind.

#2 – Duplicate Title Tags

Just like with Meta Descriptions you should ensure every page has a unique Title tag.

Ensure there are no duplicate title tags across your site.

#3 – Underscores In Title Tags

Matt Cutt’s specifically said not to use underscores as seperators in your title tags.

Instead, you should use commas, pipes or dashes to separate your titles.

#4 – Keyword Stuffed Meta Tags

Having a keyword-stuffed title tag or meta description will negatively affect you.

For example if your title tag is:

Link Building | Link Building Services | Link Building Strategy’

That is keyword-stuffed!

Instead you should have something more natural like:

‘Link Building Services – Fast & Efficient’

#5 – Meta Keywords

While not strictly a negative factor, the meta keywords tag was originally used to help software indexing. Google have never used the meta keywords tag as a ranking signal.

They do read the tags – but they are not a ranking factor.

#6 – Keyword Density

Way back when we used to build sites to have the perfect keyword density.

It seemed that around 3% was the ‘sweet spot’.

But since then Google has got much better at processing language and they can understand the topics of webpages better. So when optimising for keyword density…

It is very easy to over optimise and get caught out.

So ignore keyword density and make sure your target keyword is mentioned in:

  • The title tag
  • The meta description
  • H1 tag
  • Once or twice in the main content

#7 – Slow Load Times

Just like having a fast site serves as a positive factor

Having a slow loading site will act as a negative factor if all other things are equal.

#8 – Duplicate Content

John Mueller walks us through what Google classes as duplicate content.

This comes after Google releases a duplicate content warning.

#9 – Autogenerated / AI Content

Google prioritises quality content.

Generic AI-written content is about as far away from quality content as you can get.

AI rewrites what’s already out on the internet. It doesn’t add any unique perspectives, experience or authority.

Worst of all?

Our own AI content detection tests show that AI-written content can be heavily plagiarised, leading to duplicate content.

Lots of AI-generated content on your website can lead to a ranking drop and even have your website labelled “unhelpful” by Google.

Don’t get caught in the AI hype.

Stick to human-written, unique, trustworthy and quality content that your readers will love.

#10 – Hidden Content

This was the old stance on hidden content…

“Hiding content specifically to manipulate search, increase word count or increase the number of keywords on a page can get you penalised.”

Now John Mueller has revealed that with the mobile first index you can contain/hide content in tabs because of user experience purposes.

Ranking just as well as normal content.

#11 – Irrelevant Image Alt Tags

For a long time we have been using ALT tags to tell Google what our images are about. Typically we use the image alt tag to include a relevant keyword.

However Google can understand images now!

So if you have a picture of a Zebra with the alt text:- ‘best iPhone deals’

You are going to have a hard time!

#12 – Outbound Links

If you are not careful you could end up with a site wide penalty. Google do hand out penalties for outbound links…

Even if it’s just 1 bad outbound link across your entire site and having too many outbound links can hurt your site’s ranking.

The Quality rater document clear states:

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

#13 – Broken Links

Having too many broken links is a sign of a low-quality site according to Google’s rater guidelines. However you should not be worried about having the odd broken link.

But broken links are quick to fix so if you have them, fix them.

#14 – Too Many Affiliate Links

Google and affiliates historically do not get on. For the most part, affiliates are a pain for Google as they contribute a huge amount of spam and low-quality sites.

Having affiliate links isn’t a problem, but if your spamming affiliate links throughout your content you are going to run into trouble.

Either way, you should be  nofollowing all of your affiliate links  .

#15 – HTML Errors

W3C code validation and HTML errors are not ranking factors.

Unless…

Those errors interfere with how Google spiders and indexes pages. Stay on top of HTML errors and fix them as they are reported in Google Webmaster Tools.

#16 – URL Length

It has been widely believed that the length of your URL has a negative impact on rankings.

It has now been confirmed that Google has no real preference with URL length. But be aware that if your URL contains a hash ‘#’ then Google will not index it.

#17 – Spelling & Grammar

John Mueller answers the question… Does bad spelling and grammar affect your rankings?

The answer is “not really”. However, it is not as simple as that…

He explains that Google doesn’t really have an issue with poor grammar and spelling.

But your visitors will!

If your content is packed full of bad spelling and awful grammar inevitably you will lose the trust of your audience, which will only have one result…

#18 – Interstitial Ads

Interstitial Ads are pop up ads that force a user to view an ad before seeing the content. They can appear before the page loads, when the page loads or when a user scrolls.

Google doesn’t like intrusive interstitials ads.

They ruin the user experience and they will impact your SEO negatively.

#19 – Real Business Information

Ensuring your business information is up to date is crucial to your local SEO strategy.

This includes things like:

  • NAP (name, address, phone number)
  • Listing your business on Facebook, Google My Business & relevant directories

You should also take care of your reviews on each site.

Although this should happen naturally through great customer service.

google ranking factors: page level

Site Level Ranking Factors

A list of site level rankings factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively. These factors are all changes you can make to your site to rank higher.

Here’s a quick list of the most important site level ranking factors:

Positives

Negatives

  • Site Downtime
  • Duplicate Meta Content
  • Not Optimized For Mobile

But there are a lot of other site level ranking factors you need to consider which I have broken down below-

+ Positive Site Ranking Factors

#1 – Domain Trust

Having a good standing history of trust with Google has a huge influence.

Trusted sites can get away with more and enjoy higher rankings across the board. Trust is measured across a range of signals including links from highly trusted sites.

#2 – E.E.A.T Signals

Google evaluates the quality of all websites using E.E.A.T.-

  • Experience
  • Expertise
  • Authoritativeness
  • Trustworthiness

E.E.A.T signals show Google that you produce quality content they can trust.

It also demonstrates that you have the appropriate experience and expertise to write about the subject.

what is eeat in seo

This is especially important for YMYL (Your Money Your Life) topics.

#3 – Contact Us

Google’s Search Rater guidelines says…

Sites should have easily accessible contact information to help build trust.

#4 – Privacy Policy & Terms

Having a privacy policy and terms of use pages also provide relevant trust signals. If you use Google Adsense for example, these pages are required.

This could introduce the possibility of duplicate content but Google say its not a problem.

#5 – About Us Page

Just like having contact us & privacy policy pages help to build trust with Google.

So does having a detailed about us page.

#6 – Site Structure

Organizing your site into a silo structure is a positive signal for your site. Many people have a flat structure like – domain.com/post-name

But its much better to have a silo structure.

This would look something like –

domain.com/seo/google-ranking-factors

OR

domain.com/social-media/facebook-marketing

But even more important than the URL structure…

Google looks at the number of clicks from the homepage to the destination page. This is considered of greater importance out of the two when it comes to ranking factors.

Check out my advice to create the best permalink structure for your site.

#7 – Site Freshness

Just like freshness has an impact at page level, it also has an impact at domain level.

Make sure your site is fresh and upto date at all times.

#8 – Number Of Pages

The number of pages a site has is not a ranking signal on it’s own.

However…

More indexed pages does mean you have more chances to rank for different keywords. You are more likely to attract incoming links which does have an impact.

#9 – XML Sitemap

Having an XML sitemap will help Google spider your site easily. This doesn’t guarantee that Google is going to index all of the pages in the sitemap.

But it does help them get around your site.

However not having a sitemap isn’t a negative factor assuming that your site structure is correct and Google can spider the site properly.

#10 – HTML Sitemap

Why stop at just an XML sitemap when you can have a HTML sitemap as well? Although this seems to be an old practice that is rarely seen now.

But it can help your users and Google bots.

#11 – Server Location

Server location isn’t a massive issue if you can set geotargeting. You can do this in either Webmaster Tools’ or ccTLD.

It plays a very small role according to Google’s John Mueller.

#12 – HTTPS/SSL

Google are officially using HTTPS as a ranking signal.

Although at the moment it is a very minor signal. It is used more like a tiebreaker rather than a strong ranking signal.

When you make the transition be sure to redirect all the http addresses to https addresses with clear 301 redirects in place.

#13 – Breadcrumb Rich Snippets

Having breadcrumb navigation on your site will help the overall architecture of the site.

breadcrumb navigation example

What helps even more is having the RichSnippet mark up for breadcrumbs in place.

richsnippet mark up example

#14 – Structured Data

Using structured data markup (or schema markup) helps Google better understand specific aspects of your content.

It can also get you more visibility in the search results as Google displays extra information about your page in the SERPs.

structured data example

Structured data is one of the best ways to increase click-thru rates and win rich snippets.

Use this schema tester to see if you already have structured data on your site.

#15 – Mobile Optimisation

If your site has a responsive design and displays well on mobile devices it’ll perform well.

Google recently introduced mobile first indexing and have a mobile friendly testing tool and a mobile pagespeed testing tool.

#16 – Core Web Vitals

Google is hell-bent on providing the best user experience.

Core web vitals are how they measure the user experience your website provides.

core web vitals

Improving your site’s core web vitals metrics can improve rankings and increase your overall page experience signals.

Read my complete core web vitals tutorial to learn 6 simple ways to boost your core web vitals quickly.

#17 – User Experience

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again…Google takes user experience seriously.

Their algorithm actively measures how long people spend on your site, whether you answered their search query and even how many pages they visited.

Recently Google has even started surveying users after they click from a website back to the SERPs:

google serps survey

Your website should-

  • Load quickly
  • Be easy to navigate
  • Work well on mobile devices
  • Offer engaging content

All of these can impact your search rankings significantly. Make sure that your site provides a great user experience.

#18 – Hreflang

Hreflang tags (when implimented correctly) are used to organise content by language.

They sort multiple regions with one language or one region that has multiple languages.

Although the Hreflang tags don’t directly impact your SEO ranking, if you have a website that’s international it’s important that you get the correct pages in front of your visitors…

Negative Site Ranking Factors

#1 – Site Downtime

A day or two of downtime will not inherently hurt your rankings.

However…

Google will remove your site entirely if is unavailable for around a week or more.

On the bright side once your site is backup – Google will reinclude it in the index.

#2 – Crawling / Indexing

You must make your site as easy to crawl and index as possible.

It costs money for Google to crawl the internet. The easier you make it for Google to crawl your site, the higher your rankings will be.

#3 – Duplicate Meta Content

We already discussed how important it is to have a unique title and meta description.

Having duplicate meta information across your site can lead to less visibility.

#4 – Not Optimized For Mobile

While not having a responsive design won’t hurt your rankings in desktop search…

Having a mobile-friendly design is very important to show up in mobile search.

#5 – Poor User Engagement

Google knows how many pages people visit and how much time they spend on each page. They know if the user bounces or keeps reading.

They know this regardless of whether you have Google Analytics installed or not.

Sites with poor user engagement signals such as:

  • High pogo rates
  • High bounce rate
  • Low time on site
  • Slow load times

Will drop in the rankings.

#6 – Negative Reviews

If your site has a bad reputation on sites like:

  • Yelp.com
  • RipOffReport.com
  • Google Places

You will suffer in the long term for that.

This was addressed after someone came up with the ingenious way to earn links…

By treating customers badly.

#7 – Adverts Above The Fold

If your site is ‘top heavy’ with adverts above the fold that distract from the main content…

You will suffer.

#8 – Pagerank Sculpting

Pagerank Sculpting is the practice of:

  • Nofollowing all outbound links
  • Nofollowing specific internal links

This is done in order to control the flow of PageRank.

Abusing this will get you in trouble.

#9 – Panda Penalty

Google specifically targets low quality sites with the Panda update.

If your site is penalised you will see huge drops in search visibility.

#10 – Orphaned Pages

Orphaned pages are website pages that have not been linked to from any other pages or sections of your website.

orphaned pages

This makes them hard for both users and search engines to find.

Orphaned pages on your site can lead to Google not properly discovering and indexing your content.

google ranking factors site level

Backlink Ranking Factors

A list of backlink related factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively. Paying attention to these link building factors can make a big difference to your rankings!

Here’s a quick list of the most important backlink ranking factors:

Positives

  • Number Of Links
  • Anchor Text
  • Link Title

Negatives

Doing link building in the right way can be tricky so take a look at all of the factors below or just use a service like LinksThatRank or any of these other guest posting services to help.

+ Positive Backlink Ranking Factors

#1 – Number Of Links

The number of sites linking back to your site is one of the most important ranking factors.

Quantity does help in terms of number of linking domains.

#2 – Anchor Text

The anchor text of the backlink helps Google understand the topic of the linked page.

 You should be mixing generic and branded anchors to steer clear of Penguin. 

#3 – Link Title

The title of a link also helps indicate the topic of a page although it is a much weaker signal than anchor text.

But if you can get a link from a page that has your target keyword in the title and the anchor text – that’s power!

#4 – Domain & Page Relevancy

A link from a domain and/or page that is relevant… is much more valuable than a link coming from an irrelevant site.

For example:

You wouldn’t want a link from this blog if you sold garden furniture online.

But having an industry leader like Matt Diggity link to this blog is very valuable.

#5 – Link Sentiment

The text around a link does a few things:

  1. It helps Google work out the relevancy
  2. It helps work out whether the link is a positive or negative citation

So it’s definitely worth paying attention to.

#6 – Keyword In Title

Links from pages that have either the same or tightly related keywords in their title…

Are much more valuable than those that don’t.

#7 – Domain Authority

Getting backlinks (such as edu backlinks and gov backlinks) from domains with high levels of authority and trust is a significant ranking factor that you should be focusing on.

Learn how to increase your domain authority.

#8 – Page Authority

The overall authority of the page that you are getting a link from also plays a big role.

A link from an authoritative page from an authoritative domain is the holy grail.

#9 – Age Of Backlink

Google have a patent that shows the age of a backlink is relevant.

In short:  Older backlinks are more powerful than newly created ones. 

#10 – C-Class IP’s

The number of links from domains only count if they are on separate class-c IP’s.

You want to have links from lots of different domains and IP ranges for maximum effect.

#11 – Diversity

Make sure you have backlinks coming in from a range of sources.

Relying on just 1 ‘link type’ such as guest posts, for example, stands out. You want a diverse mix of link types coming from relevant and authoritative sources.

#12 – Competing Pages

Links from pages that are in the top 10 for your target or related keywords will boost your rankings so you should focus on building links from these sites.

#13 – Social Authority

A link from a page that has a high number of social shares is worth more so include this as part of your research when prospecting sites for link building outreach.

#14 – Guest Posting

John Mueller’s view on guest posting is to make any links back to your site ‘no follow’. He believes visitors coming to your site via ‘no follow’ links are the people you want.

Check out my list of the 5x best guest posting services that I’ve tried and recommend.

#15 – Homepage Links

Links coming from the homepage of a site carry more weight.

This is because other links are found further away from the homepage in structure.

#16 – Contextual/Editorial Links

Links coming from the main content of a page are known as contextual or editorial links. These links carry the most weight compared to any other link.

An editorial link is an awful lot more powerful than a footer link from the same page.

#17 – User Generated Content Links

Google knows the difference between user generated content and site published content.

Links coming from the actual site are more powerful.

#18 – 301 Redirects

A link that reaches your site via a 301 redirect is just as powerful as a normal link. You wouldn’t think so right? But it’s true.

#19 – Wikipedia

Although links from Wikipedia are Nofollow, Wikipedia backlinks are highly authoritative.

If you get your site listed as a source of information you will also receive targeted traffic.

#20 – Positive Link Velocity

Link velocity is a measurement of how many links you gain over time.

It is much better to maintain a positive or neutral velocity than one that is degrading.

#21 – Nofollow Links

John Mueller explains that no follow links aren’t included in the algorithm.

So this means they do not contribute negatively towards your SEO.

#22 – Sponsored / UGC Tags

Using “sponsored” or “UGC” (User Generated Content) link tags helps Google understand the nature of your links.

When you link out to other sites, make sure you tag the link appropriately.

These tags are essential to maintain the integrity of your own link profile and follow SEO best practices.

#23 – Word Count Of Page

A link from a page with 2,000 words is worth more than a page with 100 words. This should help you when finding sites to reach out to.

#24 – Number Of Outbound Links

A link from a page that has hundreds of links to other sites is worth a lot less than a link from a page that only has a few links to other sites.

#25 – Sitewide Links

A link from the sidebar that is present on every page of the site is treated as a single link.

Negative Backlink Ranking Factors

#1 – Bad Neighbourhoods

Having links from sites that have been identified as a “Bad Neighbourhood” by Google will hurt your site.

If Google has uncovered a blog network and your site has a lot of links from that network

You are in trouble.

#2 – Same C-Class

Having lots of links from IP addresses in the same C class is not natural.

This is usually an indication of link manipulation.

#3 – Guest Posting

Guest posting was a great way to get backlinks a couple years back. However spammy guest posting will get you penalised.

So if your throwing together poor quality articles to guest post purely for the sake of links…

Make sure you are nofollowing them! Google are actively cracking down on this activity.

#4 – Buying Links

You will be penalised if you get caught out buying or sponsoring links.

The official rules are you should apply the NoFollow tag to all paid links, but trust me – nobody actually does that.

#5 – Selling Links

Just like buying links can get you in trouble, so can selling links. There are numerous examples of well known sites selling links and being penalised.

dont sell links

Again, that only happens if you get caught. And some people are more stupid than others as you can see above.

#6 – Negative Link Velocity

Link velocity is a measurement of how many links you gain or lose over time.

A negative link velocity will have a negative effect on your visibility in search.

#7 – Reciprocal Linking

Reciprocal linking used to be very effective but an update many years ago killed that.

It is now seen as a link scheme and should be avoided.

#8 – Forum Profiles

Links from forum profiles used to be highly effective.

However, this will now get you penalised if systematically abused.

#9 – Linking Relevancy

Sites with a high percentage of links coming from unrelated or irrelevant sites rank lower. So make sure any links pointing to your site are relevant to your niche.

#10 – Penguin Penalty

The Google Penguin penalty tends to focus on your backlink profile.

This can affect you on a page and domain level.

Want to remove a Google penalty? Check out my Google penalty recovery guide.

#11 – Unnatural Link Profile

Link building is an essential part of SEO.

But an unnatural link profile with tons of low-quality or spammy backlinks can trigger Google penalties.

This is the fastest way to destroy your search rankings and traffic.

ONLY build high-quality, natural links and use trusted link building services

google ranking factors: backlinks

User Engagement Ranking Factors

A list of user engagement factors that can affect your rankings. Knowing the user engagement of your site is the first step, then just implement these factors.

Here’s a quick list of the most important user engagement ranking factors:

Positives

  • Page Level SERP Click Through Rate
  • Domain Level SERP Click Through Rate
  • Dwell Time / Pogo Sticking

Negatives

  • Page Level SERP Click Through Rate
  • Domain Level SERP Click Through Rate
  • Dwell Time / Pogo Sticking

I’ll explain what each of those user engagement ranking factors mean below and whether each of them can help you, or hurt you.

+ Positive Engagement Ranking Factors

#1 – Page Level SERP Click Through Rate

Pages that get a higher click-through rate in search results get a boost in rankings.

Mark my words, this is one of the most effective ways to rank today. Given the choice between the perfect backlink profile and a high SERP CTR…

 I would choose the CTR every day. 

#2 – Domain Level SERP Click Through Rate

If your domain attracts high click-through rates across all pages…

You will be rewarded with higher visibility across the site.

#3 – Dwell Time / Pogo Sticking

Pogo sticking occurs when people visit your site and click back to the search results…

What Is Pogo Sticking?

Google measures if people stay on your page after visiting it from a Google search.

If the user visits your site and doesn’t return to the results…

This is a clear sign to Google that your page is of excellent quality.

#4 – Low Bounce Rate

Google knows exactly which pages you visit and how much time you spend on them. Regardless of which browser you use or if your site has Google Analytics.

bounce rate

A lower bounce rate attracts higher visibility in the search results.

#5 – Pages Per Visit

Sites that engage users for long periods of time or visit multiple pages are ranked higher. Therefore both content quality and internal links play a big part in the pages per visit metric.

#6 – Direct Traffic

A site that gets a lot of direct traffic is deemed to be of higher quality than a site that doesn’t get much direct traffic.

#7 – Returning Visitors

Sites that have a high percentage of returning visitors are deemed to be of higher quality than sites that don’t get many return visitors.

#8 – Comments

Pages that attract user engagement in the form of comments are a clear signal of quality and user interaction.

Negative Engagement Ranking Factors

#1 – Page Level SERP Click Through Rate

Pages that get a low click-through rate in search results will drop from the first page.

Regardless of other factors. Backlinks get you there, CTR keeps you there.

#2 – Domain Level SERP Click Through Rate

Domains that have a low click-through rate across their pages will have less visibility.

#3 – Dwell Time / Pogo Sticking

Google measures if people stay on your page after visiting it from a Google search.

If the user returns to the search results quickly this is a strong negative signal.

#4 – High Bounce Rate

Sites with a high bounce rate will see a negative effect on their rankings across the board. This is a clear sign to Google that your site is not giving value to it’s visitors.

Google pays attention to user engagement and so should you.

engagement based google ranking factors

Social Signal Ranking Factors

A list of social media related factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively. Pay attention to these factors and you’ll see a boost in your rankings.

Here’s a quick list of the most important social signal ranking factors:

Positives

  • Tweets
  • Facebook Shares
  • Facebook Comments

Negatives

  • Negative Social Velocity


But take a look at the full list of social signal based ranking factors you might want to consider below-

+ Positive Social Signal Ranking Factors

#1 – Tweets

The number of tweets a given URL or domain will influence rankings in Google so having a robust Twitter strategy is important.

#2 – Facebook Shares

It is generally thought that Google do not have access to Facebook’s data. But that is not true. The number of times your pages are shared on Facebook impacts your rankings.

 This is the most valuable Facebook signal. 

#3 – Facebook Comments

The number of comments a given URL has received on Facebook will impact rankings.

Although less important than shares.

#4 – Facebook Likes

Facebook Likes of a URL/Domain also has positive traction in the SERPS.

This Facebook signal is the weakest of the 3.

#5 – Pinterest Pins

Having your URL pinned and re-pinned on Pinterest is a strong social signal. This platform may not be relevant to your niche but if it is… take advantage!

#6 – YouTube Links

Native YouTube content, or links from YouTube itself, could influence rankings.

This is because Google owns the platform and video content is often given priority.

#7 – Relevancy

Relevancy of your social signals is also important.

For example:

Having an industry leader like Matt Diggity mention this blog on social is very valuable.

#8 – Positive Social Velocity

Just like you can have a positive link velocity you can also have a positive social velocity.

I have used positive social velocity to bring Penguin penalised sites back to the #1 spot.

Negative Social Ranking Factors

#1 – Negative Social Velocity

Negative social velocity will see your site drop in rankings.

For example:

If you bought 1,000 Tweets today and 3 days later 900 of them were removed…

That would damage your rankings.

I mentioned bringing penalised sites back to the #1 spot with positive social velocity. As the velocity drops off – so does the ranking.

social signal based google ranking factors

Brand Signal Ranking Factors

A list of brand signals that can affect your rankings positively or negatively. Use your brand to give your Google search engine rankings a boost!

Here’s a quick list of the most important brand signal ranking factors:

Positives

  • Branded Anchor Text
  • Branded Searches
  • Brand Mentions / Citations

Negatives

  • Negative Reviews
  • Low Branded Click Through Rate

But please make sure you take advantage of the full list of brand based ranking factors below-

+ Positive Brand Ranking Factors

#1 – Branded Anchor Text

Anchor texts that include your brand a very strong signal to Google.

branded searches example

For example: ‘Matthew Woodward Link Building’

Is much more powerful than just – ‘Link Building’

#2 – Branded Searches

Similar to branded anchor text, when people search Google and include your brand with associated keywords this offers a huge boost in rankings.

For example:

People searching for – Matthew Woodward SEO

brand suggestions

Tells Google my brand is important to SEO.

#3 – Brand Mentions / Citations

Having your brand mentioned on popular sites with your keywords is a clear signal to Google.

You can use this Google search to see what Google see’s-

brand mention search

#4 – Facebook & Twitter Presence

Popular brands have a presence on Facebook with a strong following, they use this following to increase social signals and drive traffic to their site.

#5 – LinkedIn Company Pages

Popular brands have a dedicated LinkedIn page for their business.

This also shows employees.

#7 – Social Activity

Brands that are more active on social media/engaging with people are more popular than brands that do not.It’s worth putting in the extra effort.

#8 – Shareable Website

Writers who produce share-worthy content are much more likely to earn natural backlinks and get shares on social media.

social media content promotion

These are essential brand ranking factors that will positively influence your search rankings.

Encourage social sharing on your website by adding easy-to-use social sharing buttons to your pages. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make!

#9 – Brick & Mortar Business

The majority of real businesses have physical brick & mortar premises.

Listing your address in the website’s footer along with a Google My Business listing is a strong signal.

Negative Brand Ranking Factors

#1 – Negative Reviews

If your brand has a bad reputation on sites like:

  • Yelp.com
  • RipOffReport.com
  • Google Places

You will suffer in the long term for that.

#2 – Low Branded Click Through Rate

If people are searching for your brand and associated keywords but don’t click to your site.

That is a negative brand signal.

google ranking factors brand signals

Check out my complete SEO checklist.

Stuck in the Google sandbox period? Read my guide to learn how to get out of Google sandbox as quickly as possible.

Wrapping It Up

So there you have it – all known Google ranking factors in one place for your convenience!

With this knowledge in hand, you now know how to improve your search rankings.

Just to recap we covered ranking factors in these areas:

  • Domain
  • Page Level
  • Site Level
  • Backlinks
  • User Engagement
  • Social Signals
  • Brand Signals

To put it simply: If you are not paying attention to these areas you are going to have a hard time.

And do not forget!

Google doesn’t look at just 1 ranking signal.

They ‘stack signals’ together to build a bigger picture.

But Google isn’t the only search engine with ranking factors you should be paying attention to…

…because Bing SEO is something that needs to be taken seriously as well.

PRO TIP: If you want to learn more about Google ranking factors and/or SEO in general, why don’t you take an SEO certification/SEO course or read an SEO book?

What Are Your Thoughts?

255 Responses

  1. You’re always my go-to resource for SEO. I first read your content few years ago on GSA SER. Thanks for this insightful post once again Mathew. It helped to refresh my SEO knowledge as I rank my new site.

  2. Amazing list!I have been learning SEO for 8 years, I needed to improve and I signed up for your 90dayseo course a few months ago, I read it twice and thanks to that I am achieving my goals now

    1. Everyone can! The only thing you have to do is find out what the search engine algorithm wants and then manipulate the website to those factors.

  3. Hey – According to the ISO definition, user experience includes all the users’ emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency. Hope it helps!

  4. HelloMatthew Do you want to tell me if I follow what you have outlined in your article I can also rank as you do? I really want to be at the top like you…

    1. Hey Abduljabbar, If you follow those tips, your website should appear in the search results and even start ranking well. It’s gonna take time and hard work to get it at the top of search results but it’s possible! And just to remind you there are a bunch of other factors to think of to rank a website like:-Keywords -Backlinks -On-page/Off page etc…

  5. I am quite impressed by how you have noted down both negative and positive impact on the site like I would love to if near in future I can write 10% of this 🙂

  6. There are quite a few factors in this article that are listed as positive ranking factors that simply are not.

  7. Thank you for this great article, Matt.I have just shared on Twitter and bookmarked this article for my easy reference. There is a lot I’ve learned out of this and going to implement now.Have a good day 🙂

    1. Great news, Mudassir! Let us know if you obtain any results! PS: I’ve seen your post on Twitter! Thank you!

  8. Thanks for sharing this complete list of google ranking factors,Now I have a clear understanding of ranking factors.

  9. I have added this site to my bookmarks as its got lots of intersting digital marketing blogs that I will need to read!

  10. Nice post,I strongly agree with your point. I have seen that Google mostly focuses on User experience. If you missed some points of optimization but your user is satisfied with your website / Business then Google provides rankings to your website.

    1. MansiYou talked about user experience I really would like to know what you meant by that Please…

  11. Not only that its a factor for Google but for Bing and Yahoo its something different. They woun`t index all your pages/rank you well if you don`t add geo location and language as meta information.

  12. i was searching for ranking factors in 2019, i have read somewhere that in sept google release new algo update which focus on long keyword in website is this true?

  13. Is it very nice post and it is very helpful for heavy traffie on our sites . And thankyou so much for it .

  14. Thanks for this great post. As I am new to this field your post has helped me a lot in understanding the on page concepts. I would like to share it with my colleagues too.

  15. hello, I am a digital marketing student thanks for sharing this information this is very useful to me.

  16. Very nice, thanks for sharing to us.Really looking forward to reading more.  And please check my  this site

  17. This is the best article i have ever read this is almost complete package of ranking factor it cover all major factor for beginner this is very helpful .

  18. Awesome issues here. I am very glad to look your post.Thanks so much and I am having a look ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  19. Bounce rate is not a factor, it is more of a helper… there are many sites that do not have analytics installed.

    1. Google knows your bounce rate regardless of which browser you are using and whether your site has Google analytics installed or not.

  20. i search here all factor about ranking that i was mistaken, so after read your blog post ,i really feel that am a SEO master for my post, so thanks for share that sort of information

  21. I was following blindly what ever information I got to grow in terms of SEO but since I followed your articles I believed in intelligent way to SEO. Believe me my traffic grew by 22%. Very informative. Thanks tons.

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