Google's Ranking Factors For SEO: A Complete Guide (2023)
Updated: 3 days ago
Did you know that Google makes thousands of updates to its search engine every year? That means that SEO factors that were relevant a few years ago might not be relevant any longer.
What's more, Google has over 200 ranking factors that it uses in its algorithm to rank a webpage.
This is why it's important that you stay updated on all the changes and have a full understanding of each of the SEO factors that google takes into account.
So here I have compiled a complete list of SEO factors that can help you understand what best practices you need to follow in order to rank in Google SERP.
Table of Contents:
Page-Level SEO Factors
1) High-Quality Content
One of the most important factors that google considers when ranking a webpage is whether the content present is of "high quality". What does "high-quality content" mean for Google?
Well, it means creating helpful, reliable, people-first content that provides original information (with research analysis when appropriate), includes comprehensive answers on the topic, and gives substantial value to its readers such that they feel satisfied after reading the content.
You can learn more about Google's guide to creating high-quality content by clicking here!
Some people incorrectly believe that in order to rank your web page, your content must be of a particular word count/length.
This is false, Google does not have a preferred word count.
However, it is interesting to note that web pages that rank on the first page in Google do have a higher word count. In fact, one study from Backlinko showed that webpages that rank on Google's first page contain an average of 1447 words.
But what that means is that rather than content length the fact that these web pages gave comprehensive answers to the queries that the searchers had is what made them rank on the first page.
3) Covering a Topic In-Depth
This same study from Backlinko also shows that content that covered a topic in-depth and answered queries from every angle clearly ranked higher than pages that did not give an in-depth answer to the topic the searcher had queried for.
4) Title Tag
Having a keyword in the title tag is no longer as important as it once was. Studies do show that keyword optimization of the title tag does not correlate to a higher first-page Google ranking.
However, the title tag is still an important On-page SEO signal, and per Moz's study, having the keyword at the start of the title tag does tend to make the webpage perform better than webpages that have the keyword at the end.
5) Meta Tag Description
The meta tag description is not used as a direct ranking signal by Google.
However, having a compelling meta-tag description can attract users to click your webpage more in comparison to other web pages, thus increasing your click-through rate (CTR).
And since click-through rate is a key ranking factor meta tag does act as an indirect ranking signal for Google.
6) H1 Tag
H1 tags are kind of a "secondary title tag". As in, if the title is what a user first sees when they do a search query, the H1 tag "title" is what they see if clicking and going into the webpage.
H1 tag is used as a secondary relevancy signal by Google, so having a compelling H1 tag and making it relevant to the topic you will write about will tend to give your webpage a better performance.
7) Keywords in Subheadings (H2, H3, etc.)
H2 - H6 subheading tags act as another weak relevancy signal when keywords are placed in them. They help Google understand the structure of the page along with what each specific section of the page is about.
8) Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency
This is a numerical statistic that reflects how much relevant a word is to the content of a web page.
The more often a keyword and keywords related to it appear on a page, the more likely it is that the page is about that keyword.
But keep in mind that this does not mean that you will do keyword stuffing as that will get you penalized by Google instead. Keywords should come naturally into your content to enhance the topic you are writing about rather than to use them to solely rank in Google.
9) Including Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords in the content
Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords are words that are semantically relevant to the main keyword.
They help search engines understand the meaning of the keyword and what the content is about when there is more than one meaning for the keyword.
(For example: Are you talking about the micro-organism parasite or Parasite which is a 2019 movie).
Having semantically relevant keywords in the meta tag description and Title tags helps Google discern between words that have multiple meanings and thus may act as a relevancy signal.
10) Page Load Speed
Page load speed is now a key ranking factor for both Google and Bing. This is understandable as what search engines want is that their users to get the best user experience possible.
If the web pages that the search engines show has slow load speed then of course the users will not have a great experience which Google and Bing would want to avoid at all costs.
11) Accelerated Mobile Pages
Although Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are not a direct Google ranking factor, it is intended to increase load speed for the mobile versions of webpages. And thus may indirectly help webpages rank higher on Mobile.
AMPs have their own issues though. Since they strip most of the complex coding of the webpage and show a cached version of your webpage from Google's server, you get limited analytics on the traffic generated from AMP and also lose out on lead generation from the webpage if you have implemented AMP.
If you want to read more about AMP, read this wonderful guide from Neil Patel on Accelerated Mobile Pages.
12) Duplicate Content
Having duplicate content on the same site can negatively affect the webpage's search engine ranking even if the content is modified.
Usually, the effect that is seen is cannibalization whereas the two duplicate content is competing to rank for the same keywords and taking each other's rank down, harming the overall visibility of the website.
13) Image & Video Optimization
Image & Videos on a web page gives search engine important relevancy signals about the content through their file name, alt text, title, and caption.
Optimizing these sections greatly helps Google to know what they are about and rank them for relevant search queries.
14) Content Freshness
Google favors content that is either recently published (especially for time-sensitive search queries) or that is regularly updated over ones that are never or sparely updated.
This is because Google wants to give users new information instead of information that might be years old and / or outdated. In fact, this is so much important that Google shows users some results when the web page was last updated.
So updating your content at least once a year is very much important.
15) Frequency of Page Updates & Extent of Content Changes
Along with the freshness of the content, the frequency of updates and the extent to which each of the changes is done, also serve as a freshness factor to Google.
So content that is updated multiple times in a year has a greater freshness factor as well as updates where whole sections are changed vs fixing typos and making small changes.
16) Table Of Contents
Having a table of contents in your blog posts, especially when their content length is high, with links to each specific section of the article helps Google to better understand what your page's content is about.
This can help to rank your page faster and may also sometimes result in site links in SERP results.
17) Outbound Links
Outbound links quality: according to a study conducted by Reboot Online in 2016, backlinking to good, authoritative websites makes Google trust your web page more and has a positive impact on your rankings.
The same results were observed by Rand Fishkin from Moz in 2011 and they published their own piece on why external linking is good for SEO.
Although these are seemingly old studies, the results hold true to this day.
Content of Outbound Link: Google uses the content of the pages you link out to for the relevancy of your own web page. For example, if your blog page talks about shoes and you link out to the Nike website it tells Google that you are talking about Nike shoes and not about shoes from other brands.
The number of Outbound Links: Having good authoritative outbound links is good but having too many outbound links is actually bad as it can "leak" PageRank, which can then hurt your page's ranking in the search results.
18) Internal Linking
Two things need to be taken into account when it comes to internal linking:
When a number of your web pages point to one of your particular web pages, it indicates to Google that the particular web page is important in comparison to your other web pages (the number of internal links pointing to a page shows importance).
Internal links from authoritative pages of your website have a stronger impact than from pages that are less authoritative.
19) Broken Links & Affiliate links
Broken links on your web page indicate to Google that you are neglecting your website and thus negatively impact your web page's quality on Google.
Having too many affiliate links may cause Google's algorithm to pay more attention to the other quality signals of your website to ensure your web page is not a copy-paste affiliate site (affiliate sites where product descriptions and reviews are directly copied from an original merchant without any added value).
PageRank is basically a system developed by Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin that measures how authoritative a particular web page is.
Google measures how authoritative a web page is by seeing how many good quality, and authoritative websites backlink to it.
Generally, the higher the PageRank the higher it tends to rank in search results.