Search Engine Country » SEO » Google Ranking Signals: A complete overview of all confirmed, rumored and false factors
Any article you can find online about Google ranking factors will tell you that there are at least 200 or so strange variables that contribute to how a site will perform in the SERPs.
That said, there’s a huge difference between what can impact SEO, what’s actually confirmed as a ranking factor, and what’s just a good principle to rank well.
It may sound like semantics, but best practices don’t automatically translate into confirmed ranking factors per se.
So let’s separate these confirmed facts from fiction and all the other things that you as a good marketer should just be doing on a daily basis.
In this article, we analyze all of Google’s known, confirmed, rumored, and absolute myth-level ranking factors in an easy-to-read, highly condensed way.
Confirmed ranking factors
These are all ranking factors that have been confirmed to be true. We know that they certainly affect your results in Google’s search engine to varying degrees.
Core Web Vitals
Your Core Web Vitals review page experience signals to evaluate how engaging the user experience is. They confirmed in 2021 that they are a ranking signal, so make sure your site has a “good” ranking.
Source: Timing to bring page experience to Google Search
Google has confirmed that they use concise anchor text (read: “SEO strategies” as anchor text and not “click here”) to better understand what’s on your pages, which can directly lead to them ranking your page higher in the SERPs places.
This isn’t the strongest ranking factor on the list (especially after the Penguin update), but it can still help.
Source: Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
You may now have an up-and-down, completely legit company, but what if a sketchy company previously used the domain to scam customers?
Domain history does matter, and it’s a confirmed ranking signal, though Google’s John Mueller has gone on to say that the problem will resolve itself over time. Still, we recommend playing it safe.
Source: Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (Nov 13, 2018)
Google’s E-A-T framework assesses expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness — and while it’s not a ranking factor in itself, many of the factors that go into its calculation are ranking factors. So we put this one in the confirmed column, but with a little “but only kind” comment.
Source: How Google fights disinformation
Headings – including H1s and H2s – can definitely be a ranking factor as they help Google understand the content on the page. They’re not the only ranking factor, but they’re important, so make sure they’re clearly written and keyword-friendly.
Source: English language Google Webmaster Central office hours (Aug 7, 2020)
Secure search, or HTTPS – compared to HTTP – is a well-known and confirmed ranking factor. It’s also an important part of a secure user experience, so make sure you get started quickly if you haven’t already.
Source: HTTPS as ranking signal
It is abundantly clear that content is used as a search ranking signal, and the quality of the content, including how directly it answers a question, can be vital to its performance in the SERPs. The content itself (and not just headlines) is reviewed by Google.
Source: English language Google Webmaster Central office hours (Aug 7, 2020)
Links coming to your site from other sites have long been a common SEO best practice. That’s because PageRank set backlinks as “votes” from the very beginning, offering a new way to analyze quality that was originally modeled on academic paper citations.
Source: Ranking Results – How Google Search Works
Keyword density isn’t a ranking factor (we’ll get to that later), but keyword prominence is. This is the location of the keyword, and the closer to the title or beginning of the text, the more prominent it is.
Source: English-language Google SEO office hours (June 18, 2021)
Keyword stuffing – where you overload your content with keywords in an attempt to make it rank well – is a negative ranking factor, as confirmed by Google. This will hurt you, so avoid it.
Source: Google’s Web Search Spam Policy
Known paid links
If you paid for backlinks and you get caught (which is admittedly very difficult), that’s a negative ranking factor. It’s best to stay away from this.
Source: Google Web Search Spam Policy
Mobile-friendliness is confirmed as a ranking factor and has been growing stronger as a ranking signal for years. It’s especially important for mobile search results, which have eclipsed desktop searches for at least seven years now. So here mobile respond best practices and confirmed ranking signals overlap nicely.
Source: Continuing to make the web more mobile-friendly
We know that page load speed is a confirmed factor for Google’s SERPs (and has been since 2010) – and it’s an important factor. It also has a direct impact on the user experience, so make sure your site load times are as fast as possible.
Source: Speed is now a landing page factor for Google Search and Ads
Physical proximity to the searcher
Google definitely considers the physical proximity of the searcher when deciding what results to show, especially with local search. While you cannot change the location of your business, you should ensure that all of your business information (including location listings) is up-to-date and accurate.
Source: How to improve your local ranking on Google
RankBrain is an AI system released in 2015 (and significantly updated in 2016) to integrate AI into searches for better results, which is especially useful for ambiguous searches or long keywords. It’s a confirmed ranking factor, but there’s no clear or obvious way to intentionally optimize for it.
Relevance, distance and prominence
These three signals have been confirmed as ranking factors by Google and determine a company’s popularity and geographic proximity, along with how relevant it is to the specific query. They are each vital for local search results, so keep that in mind when optimizing your local business page and don’t forget to generate reviews.
Source: How to improve your local ranking on Google
There’s plenty of evidence that title tag optimization can have a correlative increase with ranking, though we know they’re not nearly as critical of a ranking factor as the rest of the content itself. It’s a small detail in a bigger picture, but they also say Google looks at keyword stuffing as a negative factor here.
Source: Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (Jan 15, 2016)
URLs are a minimum search ranking factor, meaning that keywords in a URL are evaluated when Google crawls your site. Mueller has repeatedly emphasized that this is not a ranking factor worth spending a lot of time on.
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Unconfirmed but suspected ranking factors
Google hasn’t confirmed every single ranking factor, but that doesn’t mean the elements below don’t affect the ranking algorithms. These are the unconfirmed, but experts suspected, ranking factors that can affect your SEO.
Having alt text for your images is certainly considered an SEO best practice, having alt text in itself is not a confirmed ranking factor. That said, using it correctly and with keywords can help your SEO strategy by giving Google more context about what you have on the page.
Source: Google Image SEO Best Practices
Breadcrumbs help Google assess the hierarchy of how your pages are ranked. At this point, we know that it can help Google categorize pages and that Google treats breadcrumbs as normal links in PageRank. We think they can have an impact on ranking, even if they are not confirmed as a direct ranking factor.
Click depth, or the number of clicks it takes to go from your homepage to the landing page, is very likely a ranking factor based on comments from Mueller. But not significant. Think about how easy it is for users to get to the end page.
Source: Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (June 1, 2018)
Location listings that list your most important business information such as name, address, and phone number, and while appearing online are not officially confirmed as a ranking factor, but it comes close. Google has noted that local results favor the most relevant results and companies with full information are given priority.
Source: Improve your local ranking on Google
Co-citation and co-occurrence help Google assess how closely two unrelated sites or pages may be related and can give them clues as to how the pages are related and in what context. A few reliable, high-quality links to your site can help Google put some puzzle pieces together, but it’s probably not a significant ranking factor.
Source: Google patent on related entities and what it means for SEO
It’s only natural that someone looking for shoes in Mandarin would be less likely to come across a site written in Spanish. To reach users in different locations, you need to create content in the languages they speak.
Source: Ranking Results – How Google Search Works
These are links to your own content on your site, but they need strong use of anchor text. At least they don’t hurt. That said, they are unlikely to be a strong ranking factor compared to others like site load speeds.
Source: Learn more about what sitelinks are
Schema markup is very valuable when it comes to generating clicks, and it also provides microdata that Google can easily understand.
It’s not confirmed as a known ranking factor, but we know it can help you rank for queries you might not otherwise have. So it can help as a ranking signal, but at worst it just helps your overall SEO.
Source: Understand how structured markup data works
The user’s own search history
Every user is different and Google knows that. The algorithm does take into account the search history in the past to display the search results as accurately as possible.
However, this is not something you can completely influence and the impact is rarely significant (other than prominent locally personalized SERPs or high traffic pages).
Source: @searchliaison on Twitter
Rumored but unlikely ranking factors
These are ranking factors that have long been speculated about, and while they haven’t been outright denied so far, we have good reason to believe they’re unlikely to be official signals.
While former Googler Matt Cutts said in 2012 that Google would track an unlimited number of redirects from one page to another, a small PageRank can be lost in the process.
Not much has been officially said though, and they probably aren’t a page ranking factor. In any case, you want to manage redirects and links well to avoid problems in potential redirect chains. This is often more of a best practice for site performance.
Source: When migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, Google says to use 301 redirects
Canonical links do have a relationship with search rankings, but we know that even if used correctly, Google may ignore them and choose their own canonical URL to display in search results instead. Remember Captain Barbosa’s famous quote from Pirates of the Caribbean: “The code is more what you would call guidelines than actual rules.”
Source: Google selects canonical URLs based on your site and user preferences
Outbound links are way too easy for people to be a ranking factor, but it’s important to note that the anchor text and links you choose can help Google better understand your content so it can provide value indirectly.
Source: English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (Jan 26, 2016)
Disproven ranking factors
While some ranking factor rumors remain in limbo, some have been disproved. Let’s see what you don’t have to worry about, at least as far as SEO is concerned.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot not on this list, but we wanted to cover the big ones.
We list this one first because it is a common misconception that bounce rate affects ranking. Google has repeatedly confirmed that bounce rates are not a ranking signal.
404 and soft 404 pages
Google itself has confirmed that 404 pages do not affect the rank of your other URLs, easily debunking that ranking factor myth. However, broken links and pages can provide a poor user experience (so they should be found and updated if possible).
Source: 404 errors (Page not found).
Google Display Ads
This one has a bit of an asterisk.
Having display ads ads on your page can slow down the site’s loading speed, especially if you have a large number of them. So the concern was that these ads could hurt your ranking. And they don’t directly hurt your ranking just by appearing on your page.
They don’t directly affect your SEO ranking, although you’ll want to make sure you don’t overload your pages with so many ads that performance (including site loading speed) isn’t affected, as you won’t get a pass if they do.
And by the way, using Google Ads, Google Search Console and Google Analytics does not automatically affect your ranking either.
Source: The Top Heavy Update: Pages with too many ads above the fold are now penalized by Google’s ‘Page Layout’ algorithm
This one is simple: AMP is not a ranking factor, and we know that because Google has confirmed it multiple times, at least since 2016.
Source: This Week in Google Podcast 341
While Better Business Bureau (BBB) reviews can influence consumer buying decisions, there is currently no evidence that this can affect your SEO rankings, and one of Google’s team members pointed this out confirmed.
Source: Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (Nov 13, 2018)
It has long been rumored that your click-through rate (CTR) is a ranking factor, but it has been confirmed not to be the case, especially since Google knew people were trying to game this years ago. So, of course, it’s great for your site to have a higher CTR, but don’t expect it to benefit your rankings.
Source: CTR in Google Algo: Google’s Gary Illyes and Stone Temple’s Eric Enge Discuss
Code to text signal
This is not a direct ranking factor, but it can still affect page performance, including ranking factors such as load speeds, along with user experience. So not important for ranking, but still good to keep an eye on.
Source: English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (March 27, 2018)
We know that having a strong meta description is a good SEO best practice to drive a higher CTR to your site, but Google has stopped using it as a ranking signal since sometime between 1999 and the early 2000s .
Manual actions are actions that manually adjust a website’s visibility in search results by demoting or removing a site or specific pages from Google Search. These are run by Google – and they’re a penalty, not a ranking factor.
SEO writers will swear up and down that you need at least 1,000 words or 2,000 words or whatever that magic number is to get ranked by Google. That is not true.
Google doesn’t consider content length as a ranking factor, but you need to have enough quality content to be competitive on a given keyword to rank well.
The age of your domain can help with the site’s overall authority (see below), but Google has confirmed that it’s not currently a ranking factor.
Google has repeatedly confirmed that domain authority is not a ranking factor, as each “site authority” score is created by a third-party tool.
Sites with higher domain authorities can correlate with improved SEO because some calculations may be close, but they are correlative and nothing more. Really, this is common sense.
Your domain name is important (“www.coolshoes.com” can definitely generate clicks), but it’s not a ranking factor and hasn’t been for a while.
Source: Google Webmaster Central Office Hours (Sept 11, 2020)
First link priority
Google doesn’t care which link comes first. This is not the magic hack that some people insist it is. They care about the quality of the links. And remember, the anchor text is more important than where the link is placed.
Source: English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (February 20, 2018)
Recency of content
Does Google automatically prioritize a brand new article over an article written last year? No.
That said, the thoroughness and quality of the article are important. If you need to innovate to stay competitive, it can help your ranking.
Types of links
Do you think a .gov or .edu at the end of your domain will make a difference? Maybe for users, but unfortunately not for Google. No ranking factor.
This may have affected the ranking at some point, and while it’s a common best practice, it’s not a ranking factor. And remember: keyword stuffing does you no favors.
Source: What is the ideal keyword density of a page?
‘We have no idea’ if these are legitimate ranking factors (or not)
Looking for a possible ranking factor that we haven’t discussed yet? There are a few that are currently still up and running, with evidence that they could be a ranking factor, but nothing to confirm that they actually are.
Authorship of your content
Does a specific author’s byline affect how Google ranks your page? Honestly, we’re not sure, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to use reputable authors that your audience will trust.
Google has recommended adding author information to the article schema, and we suspect authorship expertise plays a role in E-A-T. But again, it’s inconclusive at this point. (Note that we’re talking about “authorship” here in a broader sense than referring specifically to Google’s old authorship.)
Source: 14 Ways Google Can Evaluate E-A-T
Orders or unordered HTML lists may be a ranking factor, but we really don’t know. If so, it’s not a particularly strong signal, but it can help with SEO, especially if it can help you find a featured snippet spot.
Source: Getting Google Featured Snippets: 9 Optimization Guidelines
The Multitask Unified Model (MUM) was rolled out in 2021 to help the algorithms better understand the language so Google can answer more complex queries more effectively. It’s not a known ranking factor right now, but it could be in the future, especially as Google discussed how it improved some search results in early tests.
Source: Using AI to keep Google Search safe
By using HTML elements to format text, both readers and Google’s crawling tools can quickly find important parts of your content. There are indications that bold or italic wording, for example, can become extra important. Because it can help you tell Google what you want it to see on the page, it could affect rankings, but the jury is still out.
There you have it – a comprehensive list of all known, confirmed and disproven Google ranking factors, along with everything in between to keep us guessing.
And that’s just the point. This list will change in the future. That’s probably the only thing we can guarantee at the end of the day.
Because while the SEO rumor mill has speculated for nearly two decades about exactly what Google’s “200 ranking factors” are, the truth is probably much murkier than that.
As Google continues to use AI, machine learning, and other advanced technologies to slice and dice data, the real “ranking factors” that will move the needle for marketers tomorrow probably won’t be the same old static factors we used to rely on yesterday.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
Brad Smith owns three content marketing companies and has been featured in such publications as The New York Times, Forbes, Business Insider, and The Next Web. Each week, he shares firsthand experiences and growth strategies behind some of the fastest growing brands on the web.
Factors typically used to aid in keyword analysis include monthly search volume, level of SERP competition, and conversion potential.
What are the 10 top-level domains?
How many top-level domains are there in the world? There are 1,589 registered top-level domains (TLDs) or generic top-level domains (gTLDs).
- .com (still accounts for more than half of all TLDs worldwide)
What is the most credible top-level domain?
.com is the #1 most trusted TLD, with . co in a close second place. When people try to remember a URL, they are 3.8 times more likely to assume it ends in .com than anything else.
What is the most unreliable top-level domain?
Currently the worst TLD is . men with Spamhaus say 55% of the 65,570 registered . TLDs for men are ‘bad’ Now you may think you never intentionally bought a . men site, one of the other shady TLDs from the following lists, or click on a spammy .
Is .net or .org more credible?
net domain might be a better choice than . org or . information. This is because these domains generally have more traffic and are easier to rank in search engines.
Are top-level domains reliable?
To users, some top-level domains appear more legitimate than others. Studies have shown that .com and . net are among the most reliable TLDs you can use for your website. This means that you can get more clicks with a top-level generic domain name, such as .com, than with a less common domain name.
What are top-level domains?
In the DNS hierarchy, a top-level domain (TLD) represents the first stop after the root zone. In simpler terms, a TLD is anything that follows the last dot of a domain name. For example, in the domain name “google.com”, “.com” is the TLD.
What does top-level domain mean?
Top-level domain (TLD) refers to the last segment of a domain name, or the portion immediately following the “dot” symbol. For example, in the internet address: https://www.google.com, the part â.comâ is the TLD. TLDs are mainly classified into two categories: generic TLDs and country-specific TLDs.
What are top-level domains and examples?
In simpler terms, a TLD is anything that follows the last dot of a domain name. For example, in the domain name “google.com”, “.com” is the TLD. Some other popular TLDs are ‘. organization’, ‘.
Can Google be beaten?
Play a different game The fact is, you can’t really beat Google at their own game. If SERP listings are a game of chess, Google is a chess grandmaster and everyone else is an amateur at best or doesn’t even know how to play.
Why can’t Bing beat Google? Thanks to its reputation as a more innovative and developer-friendly company, and because of its market position, Google was able to attract much better talent. Bing suffered from anti-Microsoft sentiment among developers and was unable to attract similar quality talent.
Can any search engine beat Google?
Simply because Google’s search results algorithm has been developed based on lessons learned from hundreds of billions of searches over the past decade, user behavior patterns, website bounce rates, etc. So competing directly with Google is not a viable option.
Will Google ever have competition?
Google’s Competitors: Search The second largest search engine and Google’s main competitor is Microsoft’s Bing at 5.56%, followed by Yahoo! by 2.71%. Internet pioneer and media company AOL is also seen as Google’s competitor.
What are the key ranking factors in the Google search algorithm?
To give you the most useful information, search algorithms look at many factors and signals, including the words of your query, page relevance and usability, resource expertise, and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor depends on the nature of your query.
What are the most important ranking factors? Ranking factors can relate to a website’s content, technical implementation, user signals, backlink profile or other characteristics that the search engine deems relevant. Understanding ranking factors is a prerequisite for effective search engine optimization.
What is keyword ranking?
What are keyword rankings? Keyword rankings refer to your web page’s position in the search results for a given keyword search. When a user searches for the specific keyword, your ranking URL is the web page listed for searching for that keyword.
Why is keyword ranking important? Why are keyword rankings important? Keyword rankings are important because higher ranking pages get more organic search traffic. That’s because 75.1% of all clicks go to the top three organic results and 31.73% of clicks go to the highest ranking page.
What is keyword ranking on Amazon?
Keywords on Amazon are indexed based on the sales of the keyword’s listing. Amazon considers the product that generates the most sales as the most relevant and places it at the top of the search results for the keyword.
How many keywords should I rank for?
It’s easier for pages to rank if they focus on one topic, so you should focus on two or three primary keywords per page that are reformulated variations. It’s hard to target four or more keywords because there’s limited space in the title and meta description tags to target them.
What is a good keyword ranking?
Search engines usually show about 10 results per page, and higher keyword rankings mean you’re closer to the top of the page (towards spot #1), lower keyword rankings mean closer to the bottom (spot #10).