There have been significant changes in the world of search over the past year, making the concept of ranking factors increasingly difficult to categorize.
Not only has Google changed how it describes several previously documented “ranking systems” – rolling a series of technical signals into one “page experience” evaluation – but it also doubled down on content standards, adding “experience” to expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).
As a result, it’s become even more complicated to determine what currently is – and is not – considered a ranking factor in Google’s algorithms.
So, how do you know which factors truly impact webpage rankings these days?
And how can you plan your SEO strategy amidst all the confusion?
In this ebook, we uncover the truth about Google ranking signals, debunk a few myths, and highlight what’s new this year in search.
Some of the updates we made to this year’s edition include:
- Five ranking factors we changed our opinion on.
- Four factors we removed (for either being out of date or just rolled into other factors).
- And other factors updated with new information.
Download your copy now to find out how these changes will impact your strategy.
Ranking Factors Change Log
“Page Experience” Updates
- Page experience was removed from Google’s “ranking systems” documentation.
- Many ranking signals are considered to evaluate page experience, and while still taken into account, it is no longer classified as its own ranking system.
- Other factors, such as mobile-friendliness, page speed, and HTTPS, were also removed from the “systems” documentation.
- Google representatives have explicitly stated that the algorithms reward good page experience. It’s used by the ranking systems, even if it isn’t a system itself.
- We updated several chapters for clarity to reflect these changes, but they all remain CONFIRMED ranking factors:
- Page Speed.
- Mobile Friendliness.
- Core Web Vitals.
- We clarified that alt text is only a ranking factor for Google image search, not general search.
- In general search, alt text counts the same as any other text on the page – and so is considered by algorithms – but has no special treatment.
- We removed this entry because it’s increasingly covered by E-E-A-T.
- We removed this entry because it’s increasingly covered by anchor text, natural language processing, and content.
Deep Link Ratio
- SEJ’s opinion changed from UNLIKELY to DEFINITELY NOT.
- SEJ’s opinion changed from PROBABLY to CONFIRMED.
- Ranking signals don’t change when a domain changes owners, so if a domain has been algorithmically penalized for some reason, that will carry over.
- Content significantly updated to reflect the addition of “experience.”
- No change in opinion.
- SEJ’s opinion changed from PROBABLY to DEFINITELY.
- However, we clarified that Google detects this automatically – and using language-specific domains, HTML tags, etc., does not impact ranking.
- SEJ’s opinion changed from UNLIKELY to DEFINITELY NOT.
- This myth is based on a 2006 patent from Google mentioning “link churn” – but the patent no longer references this term today.
- If you change a link, it might take time for it to be crawled again, but that’s the only impact.
Physical Proximity To Searcher
- We removed this entry because it’s covered under Relevance, Distance, and Prominence.
- SEJ’s opinion changed from UNLIKELY to POSSIBLY.
- If not handled properly, syndicated content can be a negative ranking factor:
- If a site automatically scrapes and reposts content, this is considered spam.
- If a site syndicates content without noindexing it, it can outrank the original content, despite Google’s efforts to prioritize original reporting.
- We removed this entry because it’s extremely outdated concerning Google’s current algorithms/natural language processing.
- If you’re concerned about this in 2023, consider reviewing some SEO fundamentals.
- Our opinion of this ranking factor overall hasn’t changed, but we updated it for clarity.
- Despite being a CONFIRMED ranking factor, it would only impact very specific cases where Google has never indexed content before – and as soon as the content is indexed, it becomes a negligible factor.
Changes To Google’s Ranking Systems Documentation
Systems & Signals
One thing we’re trying to encourage in this ebook is the shift in language from “ranking factors” to “ranking systems and signals,” which is how Google is referring to things these days.
Although “ranking factors” is still commonly used terminology, and still popular in keyword search, it’s no longer an accurate representation of how Google determines web rankings.
Google is (and has been for some time) shifting away from a model where a collection of quantitative factors determines ranking. Instead, it’s building collections of qualitative signals that come together to approximate bigger (human) questions and decisions.
A system, which is essentially a collection of signals, is increasingly becoming a set of values or ideals.
So E-E-A-T, for example, is not a ranking factor – it’s a set of ideals. And the goal is ultimately for your content to demonstrate expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
Even though Google doesn’t have a way to measure trust, it has a series of signals that go into the calculations that generate a broad understanding of what authority looks like.
Another key change Google made recently is that “page experience,” which encompasses many core technical SEO metrics, has been downgraded from the “ranking systems” documentation.
But just how much of a downgrade was it?
Well, there’s no way to really know. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to qualitatively evaluate the “amount” of impact of any ranking signal or system.
We know that page experience and some of the signals that go into it – like speed, security, and Core Web Vitals – are still in the documentation.
Google confirmed they still have an impact, and ranking systems reward page experience – but it’s clear that not all ranking factors are equal, especially today.
According to a statement shared by Google’s Search Liaison account on X (formerly Twitter):
“We also made an update to our page on ranking systems last week. Ranking *systems* are different than ranking *signals* (systems typically make use of signals). We had some things listed on that page relating to page experience as “systems” that were actually signals. They shouldn’t have been on the page about systems. Taking them off didn’t mean we no longer consider aspects of page experience. It just meant these weren’t ranking *systems* but instead signals used by other systems.”
So, basically, the recent changes were a matter of organization and not any functional algorithm adjustment.
“Page experience” is not a ranking system. But it is a collection of ranking signals that multiple ranking systems can and do use to evaluate and reward pages with good user experience.
Download Ranking Factors 2023: Systems, Signals & Page Experience for even more updates and expert insights to inform your SEO strategy.