Not too long ago, I became obsessed with knowing all of Google’s ranking factors.
I was digging into the deep bowels of the web trying to find complete lists.
In mad scientist mode, I let some more urgent work slip by so had to get back to the grind.
Nevertheless, finding and reviewing these ranking factors lists regularly is a good practice to keep these front of mind while doing your daily SEO work.
You never know when a conversation will come up about whether user comments are a ranking factor, and you have to give an answer on the spot.
Here are the top five resources for Google ranking factors.
1. Northcutt: Google Ranking Factors
Corey Northcutt’s company has put together by far the most useful – and usable – source of ranking factors.
My main problem with most popular ranking factors lists is the concreteness of the factor can be dubious and opinionated.
This tool takes a scientific approach to allow you to filter down to the level of evidence supporting each factor – from wild speculation to a patent filed by Google itself, the ultimate confirmation.
2. Edit Agency: Ranking Factors
Edit Agency (merged with Branded3) started with Moz’s 2015 ranking factors study as a base and set out on their own to do a followup survey based on their own internal team.
They polled with similar questions to what Moz asked in their survey, but they also took into account some of the clients they’ve worked with in the past.
A few of the most lucid actionable quotes from their findings:
- “If your page isn’t relevant for the query – but more importantly doesn’t answer the user’s intent – you don’t rank.”
- “When you put a page live, the question you should ask yourself is: ‘how can we absolutely guarantee that the searcher won’t click the back button?’ You know more about your business and products than anyone and it’s time to demonstrate.”
- “We are absolutely confident that links are the single biggest ranking factor. But link building is hard. It’s hard to get people to link to you. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact value of an individual link.”
The two parts of their own research I appreciate the most are where they call out the easiest things to implement and the 10 things they’re confident are not important for rankings:
These two are pretty actionable and are different from what we see in most ranking factors articles.
3. Moz Ranking Factors 2015
Yes, this is old in the world of SEO.
But Moz’s ranking factors studies have been one of the mainstays of the industry, and a large portion of those factors are unchanged over time.
In this study, as opposed to previous years, they ran a correlation study on “17,600 keyword search results from Google“. Their scientific approach to correlation is appreciated.
In addition to the keyword correlation study, they also ran a survey of 150 SEO professionals.
I would approach the findings on this survey with a bit more caution, as there’s a lot of dependence on the hive mind of those they surveyed being correct.
4. Roger Montti SEJ Posts
One of the first blogs I came across in my search for ranking factors was MartiniBuster by Roger Montii.
I was fascinated by some of his takes on the algorithm and bookmarked quite a few of the sites.
In fact, his 200 ranking signals post made me think differently about the interaction of all the signals and which ones to really prioritize in recent years.
Montii has continued his obsession right here on Search Engine Journal and is one of the more prolific posters on the updates and nuances of Google’s ranking factors.
My favorite recent post and quote by Montti was Google Discusses Ranking Factors:
“If you look at the search engine results pages, it’s clear that the top ranked sites don’t always have the most links, too. What this indicates is that ranking for Google is not necessarily a matter of making a list of ranking factors then creating a web page that conforms to that list.”
Montti details out the importance of thinking about the user and their goals, rather than trying to check the box and say you’ve hit a ranking factor.
It’s a strong reminder that Google no longer operates in this simplified ranking factor model, but rather, is using machine learning to constantly test user satisfaction.
5. Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors
This resource by Search Engine Land is a great way to visually see how the ranking factors interact and affect each other – positively and negatively.
Although last updated in 2017, it still has a large percentage of the known factors covered, and is a great resource for new SEO trainees or non-SEO marketing staff to understand the complex combination of factors.
It also vividly highlights some of the most negative factors such as cloaking and keyword stuffing.
Reminder: Ranking Factors Are Complex
It’s always worth repeating that nobody knows for sure the exact factors that come into play for ranking a site.
Even the top Google search engineers allegedly don’t fully know the exact model of the algorithms, so you can be sure that us humble SEO pros can only get so close.
Some other points to keep in mind:
- According to Gary Illyes, Top Ranking Factors Change Depending on Query.
- Google doesn’t have exactly 200 ranking factors, that’s just a number that was thrown out there at one point.
- Some factors that are easy to control, like https, in reality have a tiny impact, but that could depend on your industry.
- Links are a ranking factor, and it has been confirmed by Google multiple times and in third-party studies.
As with anything in life, you need to find the balance between execution and knowledge.
The 80/20 rule applies to Google ranking factors as much (or more) than anything in business.
The truth is, the top 20% (by volume) of factors account for more than 80 percent of the reason a site ranks.
So the actionable takeaway is to be aware of the vast majority of factors, but to really execute on the top ones that move the needle.
In practice, you may want to create an SEO decision matrix to best decide on what matters to you based on your own business, revenue, industry, and goals.
Only when you’ve perfectly implemented title tags, you’ve covered every big content topic in your industry, and you’ve earned every important link out there should you go worry about the minute, debatable factors.
After all, we’re in it to rank, not to create spreadsheets.
- Top 7 Ranking Signals: What REALLY Matters in 2019?
- Real World Ranking Factors
- 11 Things You Must Know About Google’s 200 Ranking Factors
All screenshots taken by author, April 2019