Google Ranking Factors

Google has over 200 Search Engine Ranking Factors that they use in their algorithm. I've create a massive list, collated them by topic, and graded them by importance. This list has been updated for 2019, and includes E-A-T ranking factors.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Menu
Jonathan Griffin. Editor @ The Webmaster

. Editor, Hosting Expert, SEO Developer, & SEO Consultant.

In November 2010, Matt Cutts announced at PubCon that they had over 200 Google ranking factors, with each having fifty or more variations. Since then, Google has certainly not been sitting on their hands.

I have divided the Google Ranking Factors into the following categories, with labels for Ranking Factor, Important, and Myth ranking factors:

  • Domain Factors
  • Page-level Factors
  • Backlink Factors
  • User Interaction Factors
  • Brand Signal Factors
  • On-Site Webspam Factors
  • Off-Site Webspam Factors
  • Other Algorithmic Rules

I suggest that you initially focus on the Important ranking factors when reviewing your website, and actively ignore anything we have marked as a Myth.

You should keep in mind the remaining ranking factors when creating new content or adding new features to your site. However, you are probably better off spending your time creating new great content, rather than weeks or months reviewing every minor ranking factor.

Domain Factors

#1. Domain Age

Using an older domain is NOT a ranking factor, although new domains may be supressed for a couple of months for anti-spam reasons.
  • Domain Age is not a ranking factor.
  • New domains may be dampened for a few months to help fight spam.
  • Old domains may positively correlate to better rankings due to other factors.

Source(s): John Mueller (April 12, 2017), Matt Cutts (Oct 26, 2016), John Mueller (Jan. 15, 2016).

Page-Level Factors

#2. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

AMP is NOT a Google Ranking Factor, although implementing AMP may get you more visibility in the SERPS via special carousels.
  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is not a ranking factor.
  • AMP does not count toward your quality score, or Panda UNLESS you are using AMP as your main mobile website.
  • Implementing AMP pages may get you more visibility in the Search Results through special Carousels.

Source(s): John Mueller (Jan 24, 2017), John Mueller (Feb 26, 2016), Google (Dec 9, 2015)

#3. Formatted Words

Ranking Factor

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Using formatted words is a Google Ranking Factor, as it has an impact on the Information Retrieval Score. That is, it affects how relevant that search term is to the page.
  • Larger fonts, bolded or italicized text may be weighted more.
  • There is no difference between the <strong> / <b> and <em> / <i> tags.

Source(s): Patent US 8818982 B1 (Granted Aug, 2014), Matt Cutts (Oct 21, 2013).

#4. Keyword Density

Ranking Factor

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Keywords can have a positive impact on your rankings as they show relevance, but Google has moved on from a set density. Google now looks for what is normal for that topic using TF-IDF.
  • Keyword Density is an SEO Ranking Factor, in that it should be normal.
  • Google has moved on from a set density, and now calculates it by using TF-IDF.
  • A keyword density that is too high, or stuffed, can significantly hurt your rankings.

Source(s): Source(s): Quality Raters Guidelines (2018),John Mueller (Oct 24, 2014), Moz, Matt Cutts (Aug 18, 2011).

#5. Keywords at the beginning of the URL

Ranking Factor

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Placing your keyword or key phrase at the beginning of your URL of your page has more weight than putting the keywords at the end of the URL. Google indicates that the weight diminishes past the fifth word.
  • Keywords at the beginning of an URL have a positive influence on rankings.
  • The benefit will only be very small.
  • Matt Cutts suggests producing great content is a better use of your time.

Source(s): Matt Cutts (2009), The Webmaster (May 2017).

#6. Keywords in the URL

Ranking Factor

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Adding a keyword to the URL slug can have a small positive affect, but Google has said that it will only provide a small benefit. It is better not to restructure your website to implement.
  • Keywords in the URL are a ranking factor.
  • Having keywords in your URL will only provide a small benefit.
  • It may not be worth restructuring your website to implement.
  • John Mueller stated that ‘Keywords in URLs are overrated for Google SEO.’

Source(s): John Mueller (Jan 26, 2016), John Mueller (Jan. 15, 2016).

#7. Keywords in the title tag

Important
Ranking Factor

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Google has confirmed that using keywords in the title tag is an important ranking factor.
  • Keywords in the Title Tag is a ranking factor.
  • Titles are important for SEO, but solely adding keywords to the title tag will not make you rank 10 places higher.
  • Google tries to recognize when a title tag is stuffed with keywords as it is a bad user experience for users.

Source(s): John Mueller (Jan 26, 2016), John Mueller (Jan. 15, 2016).

#8. Page Speed

Important
Ranking Factor

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Page Speed is now a ranking factor for mobile search results. This ranking factor penalizes slow mobile pages, rather than giving a boost to faster pages. It is very important to ensure that your site loads reasonable fast on mobile devices.
  • Page Speed is a ranking factor for the Mobile Search Index.
  • Page Speed only affects the slowest websites, but the affect is incremental.
  • Page Speed can affect the GoogleBot Crawl Budget.

Source(s): John Mueller (Nov 26, 2016), John Mueller (Jan. 15, 2016).

#9. TF-IDF

Important
Ranking Factor

The Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency, or TF-IDF, compares the density of the keywords on any given page against your competitors average. This helps to identify spammy web pages, against a movable benchmark which indicates what the average webmaster will use in a similar document.
  • Google likely uses a sophisticated version of the TF-IDF when assessing rankings.
  • The more times you use a keyword on your page, the more likely you page is to be about that keyword.
  • If you use a keyword too many times, it may look spammy, and rank less for that keyword.
  • TF_IDF ignores stop words like 'a' and 'the' and tries to ascertain how many times a certain keyword should be mentioned in a a good quality article about that topic.

Source(s): Google Research Blog, Patent US 7996379 B1

#10. Keyword in Heading Tags (H1, H2 etc)

Important
Ranking Factor

Heading tags are designed to show the main topics within a page. Heading tags also help provide the reader with visual descriptions of the upcoming text, and as such can reduce bounce rates, and increase conversions.
  • A correlation study by Chris Butterworth clearly showed that H1 tags matter.
  • They are hierarchical, so H1 tags have greater weight than H2, with H3 having less weight still.
  • Be careful not to over-optimized your chosen keyword in every heading tag, as over-optimization can cause your ranking to fall.
  • Rand Fishkin disagrees with the majority here. He believes that larger formatted text works just as well as H1 Tags.
  • John Mueller confirmed as recently as July 2018 that Heading tags are used to better understand context, such as 'which pieces of text belong together.' It is clear that heading tags still matter.

Source(s): Correlation study, Matt Cutts

#11. Keywords Close Together

Ranking Factor

The positioning of one keyword in relation to another keyword can imply an association between the two.
  • If for example you are searching for 'SiteGround Reviews', then a page with a paragraph containing 'reviews' and 'SiteGround' will rank better for that term, than a page containing a mention of both terms but in separate paragraphs.

Source(s): Patents: US 20020143758 A1, US 20080313202 A1

#12. Exact Keyword Phrase Match Search

Important
Ranking Factor

A patent by Google confirmed that 'a document matching all of the terms of the search query may receive a higher score (IR Retrieval Score) than a document matching one of the terms'.
  • In other words, a web page that contains the keywords being searched in the exact order being typed by the searcher will rank higher than if only one of the keywords is located on the page, or if all keywords are found on the page in no particular order.

Source(s): Patent US8818982 B1

#13. Partial Keyword Phrase Match Search

Important
Ranking Factor

I have already established that using an Exact Match Keyword Phrase of the search results in higher rankings. It, therefore, can be inferred that you will rank higher for certain searches if you use a partial Keyword Phrase within your web page.
  • Queries that Partially match a keyword phrase on your site does increase your SEO rankings.
  • Google can understand semantic language following the Hummingbird Google Algorithm update around August 2013. As such, words with similar meanings now have much more weight, even though the query does not exactly match the user.

Source(s): Patent US8818982 B1, Moz

#14. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords

Important
Ranking Factor

LSI is a technique in natural language processing that help search engines extract the meaning behind words, so that where a word has multiple meanings, Google can infer the correct meaning from its context.
  • Latent Semantic Indexing keywords are not just synonym words. They are words that often go hand in hand without being direct synonyms.
  • Basically, the Googlebot scans your page searching for closely related terms which can help it understand your page content better.

Source(s): Wikipedia, Nikolay Stoyanov

Site-Level Factors

User Interaction Factors

Brand Signal Factors

On-Site Webspam Factors

Off-Site Webspam Factors

Other Algorithmic Factors