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Google’s Search Algorithm: Over 200 Ranking Factors Explained (Updated for 2017)

Google Search Algorithm

Everyone knows the Google search algorithm is complex, but I bet you didn’t know just how complex it is.

Not too long ago we watched a video in which Matt Cutts gives a very concise explanation of how Google search works. He mentions Google takes more than 200 factors into consideration when producing search results.

So, we thought we’d research them …all 200 plus of them.

Google doesn’t make their search algorithm public, for obvious reasons. So, this list is compiled from research and testing by other well-respected SEO websites, Google statements and publication over the years, and a lot of educated guessing.

Many of these ranking factors are proven, some are controversial, and quite a few are pure SEO geek speculation.

But they’re all here for you.

Before you get started on the list, I’ve got a bonus for you. We’ve taken the top 10 most important ranking factors and put them together in a checklist you can download for free.

eBook: 10 Most Important Ranking Factors for SEO

Google’s 200 plus Ranking Factors [UPDATED FOR 2017]


Domain Factors

Factors relating to your root domain, for example, www.yourcompany.com

  1. Domain Age: Google does take domain age into consideration, and an older domain may give you a slight advantage …but according to Matt Cutts in this video it’s not that important. He says:

“The difference between a domain that’s six months old versus one year old is really not that big at all.”

  1. Keyword Appears in Top Level Domain: Google still bolds keywords that feature in a domain name, so you have to assume it still acts as a relevancy signal. But it doesn’t give your site the same boost as it once did. Example: www.wemakewidgets.com
  1. Keyword as First Word in Domain: A domain that begins with a target keyword, will have an advantage over domains with that same keyword either at the end or in the middle of the domain name. Example: www.widgetsforyou.com has an edge over www.wesellwidgets.com
  1. Domain Registration Length: This article at Search Engine Journal discusses a Google patent, which states:

“Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain.”

  1. Keyword in Sub-Domain Name: Moz’s panel which met in 2011 concluded that if a keyword appears in a sub-domain it can have a positive effect on rankings. Example: www.widgets.acmecompany.com
  1. Domain History: A domain that has something of a ‘hot potato’ ownership history, in other words ownership has been inconsistent or volatile (via WhoIs), may have its history ‘reset’ by Google. This will have the effect of negating links to the site.
  1. Exact Match Domain: Having a domain which exactly matches a target keyword (EMD) may give your website a rankings boost, if it is a quality site. But a low quality site may suffer with the EMD update. Example: www.purplespinningwidgets.com

Google Search Algorithm - 200 Ranking Factors - Update 2017

  1. Public versus Private WhoIs: If a domain keeps its WhoIs information ‘private’ then Google may well ask “something to hide?” Matt Cutts is quoted as saying at Pubcon 2006:

“…When I checked the whois on them, they all had “whois privacy protection service” on them. That’s relatively unusual.  …Having whois privacy turned on isn’t automatically bad, but once you get several of these factors all together, you’re often talking about a very different type of webmaster than the fellow who just has a single site or so.”

  1. Penalised WhoIs Owner: If Google has previously identified someone as a spammer, its more than reasonable to think they will be suspicious of other sites owned by that person.
  1. Country TLD extension: Having a Country Code Top Level Domain (for example .br, .hk, .se) will help to rank for that particular country, but it could prevent it ranking well around the world.

Page-Level Factors

Factors relating to a specific page on your website, for example, www.yourcompany.com/widgets

  1. Keyword in Title Tag: Aside from the actual content on a webpage, the title tag is the most important piece of content and sends a very strong on-page SEO.
  1. Title Tag Starts with Keyword: According to research by Moz data title tags that start with a keyword are more likely to rank higher than title tags with the keyword towards the end of the tag.

Google Search Algorithm - Importance of title

  1. Keyword in Description Tag: This is another relevancy signal. It’s not particular significant today, but it can still make a difference.
  1. Keyword Appears in H1 Tag: H1 tags are secondary title tags, and again they send a relevancy signal to Google. They typically rank higher according to this research.

Heading Tags - Google's Algorithm Explained

  1. Keyword is Most Frequently Used Phrase in Document: Having a keyword appearing more times than any other phrase on the page is likely to send a relevancy signal.
  1. Content Length: Content with more words tends to cover a topic in more depth, and is likely to be viewed positively by Google, when compared to shorter, more superficial articles. SERPIQ discovered there was a positive correlation between content length and results in SERPS.

Avergage Content Length - Google Search

  1. Keyword Density: The number of times a keyword appeared on a page was once very important. It is less so today, but it’s still something Google uses to determine the subject of a webpage. But be sensible as you might be penalized if you over-do it.
  1. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords in Content: LSI keywords help search engines to guess the intended meaning of words with more than one meaning (for example ‘apple’ the computer company as opposed to ‘apple’ the fruit). It’s reasonable to assume the presence or absence of LSI keywords will act as an indicator of content quality.
  1. LSI Keywords in Title and Description Tags: Similar to webpage content, LSI keywords in tags will probably help Google determine the intended meaning of synonyms. It may also send a relevancy signal.
  1. Page Loading Speed via HTML: A page that takes too long to load is frustrating for the user, which is why both Bing and Google consider page loading speed as an important ranking factor. Search engine spiders can estimate how long it will take your webpage to load quite accurately from the page’s source code and filesize.
  1. Duplicate Content: Significant blocks of identical content on a website, even if slightly modified, can have a negative impact on the site’s visibility in SERPs.
  1. Rel=Canonical: If you use this tag properly it will help prevent Google from considering certain pages as duplicate content.
  1. Page Loading Speed via Chrome: Its possible Google may also use Chrome user data to better understand your page’s loading speed. The Chrome data takes into account server speed, CDN usage, and other non-HTML site speed indicators.
  1. Image Optimisation: Images on a web page send important relevancy signals to the search engines through their file name, alt text, title, description and caption.
  1. Recency of Content Updates: Google often shows the date of a page’s last update in search results, which demonstrate’s the significance of this factor. The Google Caffeine update of the algorithm appears to favour content that has been updated recently, particularly in time-sensitive searches.

Recency of Content Updates for Search Engines

  1. Magnitude of Content Updates: Significant edits and changes to a webpage contribute to the freshness factor of the content. Adding or removing entire sections will have a much bigger impact than simply changing the order of a few words.
  1. Historical Updates: How frequently has the page been updated over time? Does it see an update daily, weekly, monthly, or every four years? The frequency of updates plays a crucial part in assessing the freshness of content.
  1. Keyword Prominence: Testing shows that having your target keyword appear prominently on the page will send a significant relevancy message to Google. Its widely advised that your keyword should feature within the first 100 words on the page.
  1. Keyword in H2 and H3 Tags: You can send another relevancy signal by having your keyword appear as a sub-heading in H2 or H3 format. It’s a weak signal, but every little helps.
  1. Keyword Word Order: An exact match for your searcher’s keyword in the body of your content will rank better than the same keyword phrase in a different order. For example, consider a search for: “road cycling shoes”. A webpage optimized for the keyword phrase “road cycling shoes” will rank higher than a page optimized for “shoes for road cycling”. This example also highlights why good keyword research is super important.
  1. Outbound Link Quality: There is wide concensus amongst SEO experts that linking out to authority websites helps send the right trust signals to Google.
  1. Outbound link Theme: Google may use the content on the webpage you link to as a relevancy signal. This is a theory Moz subscribes to. For example, if you have a page about Manhattan that links to drinks-related pages, Google will likely guess your page is about the Manhattan cocktail rather than the borough of New York City.
  1. Grammar and Spelling: Accurate spelling and proper grammar are positive quality indicators. However, Matt Cutts gave mixed messages in 2011 so its importance or otherwise is perhaps debatable.
  1. Syndicated Content: Search engines like to see fresh, original content being published, and independent voices expressing themselves. So is your content your own original work? If it is scraped or copied and pasted from another indexed webpage, Google will not rank it as highly as the original page.
  1. Helpful Supplementary Content: According to a Google guideline document which has now been made public, helpful supplementary content is a positive quality indicator so should boost your rankings. Examples include currency converters, loan interest calculators, and interactive recipes.
  1. Number of Outbound Links: Whilst quality links are good, too many outbound links which make the document look clutterered and less readable, can effectively ‘leak’ PageRank and harm your rankings. Again, Google is looking for a good user experience.
  1. Multimedia: Audio, video, images, and other multimedia may add to your content’s quality score.
  1. Number of Internal Links Pointing to Page: The number of internal links that point to a page gives an indication of the relative importance of that page within the site as a whole.
  1. Quality of Internal Links Pointing to Page: Links from pages on the same domain that have high authority will carry more weight than those with no or low PageRank.
  1. Broken Links: A page which has numerous broken links will send a message to Google that it has been neglected or even abandoned.
  1. Reading Level: Its widely accepted that Google estimates the reading level of your content. Indeed they used to publish reading level statistics, graded ‘basic’, ‘intermediate’, or ‘advanced’. There are differing schools of thought: some suggest a basic reading level will appeal to the masses and boost your ranking. Others may associate basic levels with content farms like EzineArticles.
  1. Affiliate Links: Taken in isolation, affiliate links should not harm your rankings. However, if you have too many then the Google algorithm may pay closer attention to other quality signals to make sure yours is not what they term a ‘thin affiliate’ website.
  1. HTML Errors and W3C Validation: Numerous HTML errors and outdated coding standards are indicative of a poor quality and perhaps neglected site.
  1. Page Host’s Domain Authority: All other things being equal, a page on a domain with high authority should rank higher than a page on a domain with low authority.
  1. Page’s PageRank: There isn’t a perfect correlation, but generally a page with a high PageRank will score better than a page with a lower PageRank.
  1. URL Length: Search Engine Journal have gone on record that if your URLs are excessively long then this can lower your visibility in SERPs.

For example:

http://www.theblaze.com/blog/2011/02/01/kansas-city-star-complains-about-the-lack-of-response-during-his-response-to-the-response-to-his-response-to-a-point-he-didnt-hear-and-doesnt-understand/

Google might consider this practice as ‘keyword stuffing’.

  1. URL Path: A webpage closer to the Home page in the site hierarchy is considered to have more relative importance and may gain slightly higher authority.
  1. Human Editors: Although it’s never been confirmed, Google has filed a patent for a system that allows human editors to influence SERPs results.
  1. Page Category: The category that your webpage sits under is a strong relevancy signal. Filing your webpage under a closely-related category will give you a relevancy boost compared to a page that sits under a less-related or even unrelated category.
  1. WordPress Tags: These tags, as you might expect, are WordPress-specific. According to Yoast.com:

“The only way it improves your SEO is by relating one piece of content to another, and more specifically a group of posts to each other”

  1. Keyword in URL: Clearly a strong relevancy signal. You should always try to include you target keyword in the URL of the page you want to rank well for that keyword. If your website displays the page or product ID rather than a friendly URL, you need to update your permalinks.

For example:

Good = www.acmecompany.com/products/blue-widgets/

Bad = www.acmecompany.com/category2/?product=8/

  1. URL String: Google will read the categories in a URL string and this sends thematic signals as to what the page is likely to be about. It is also a good idea to use breadcrumbs. 

Friendly URL Structure - Google SEO

  1. References and Sources: Indicating reference souces, like research papaers do, can act as a quality signal.
  1. Bullets and Numbered Lists: Numbered lists and bullet points are considered user-friendly as they help to break up blocks of text content, making it easier for people to read. Google is likely to agree, and may prefer content that includes bullets and lists.
  1. Priority of Page in Sitemap: The priority a page is given via a website’s sitemap.xml file may have a positive influence on ranking.
  1. Too Many Outbound Links: Here we go, straight from the horse’s mouth that is the Google Quality Rater document:

“Some pages have way, way too many links, obscuring the page and distracting from the Main Content”

  1. Quantity of Other Keywords Page Ranks For: If a page ranks for other keywords it may act as an internal quality signal.
  1. Page Age: Google does have a preference for fresh content. That said, an older page that is updated regularly will likely outrank a new page.
  1. User Friendly Layout: Once again we’re quoting the Google Quality Guidelines:

“The page layout on highest quality pages makes the Main Content immediately visible”

  1. Parked Domains: A Google update back in 2011 restricted the search visibility of parked domains.
  1. Useful Content: Google makes a distinction between ‘quality’ and ‘useful’ content. The most accurate and technically correct information may be high ‘quality’, but its not as ‘useful’ if someone of average intelligence cannot understand what she is reading. By the same token, content that people find the most helpful mightn’t necessarily be the most detailed, because its written in layman’s terms. Google strives to achieve a balance when serving up relevant web pages.

Site-Level Factors

Factors relating to your website as a whole.

  1. Content Provides Value and Useful Insights: Google has stated previously that they are mindful of websites that don’t publish content that is unique, new and fresh, useful, valuable, or helpful. Google takes a particularly dim view of thin affiliate sites. Searchers are generally looking for answers, and if a site doesn’t help a user in their quest, it is usually frowned upon by search engines.
  1. Contact Us Page: The Google Quality Document states a preference for websites with an “appropriate amount of contact information”. By all accounts, if the contact details match that shown in WhoIs then you may also see a boost in rankings.
  1. Domain Trust / TrustRank: Your website’s trustworthiness is measured by how many links away your site is from one of a number of highly trusted seed sites. Trust is a hugely important ranking factor, and you can read more about TrustRank here.
  1. Site Architecture: A well thought-out and well-constructed website architecture, especially one with a silo structure, can assist Google in organizing your content thematically.
  1. Site Updates: How frequently a website enjoys an update, especially when original, new content is added, is a significant site-wide freshness factor.
  1. Number of Pages: The number of pages on a domain is a weak authority signal. At the very least a larger site is distinguishable from a thin affiliate site.
  1. Presence of SiteMap: A sitemap helps search engines to index pages easily and more thoroughly, which helps in search visibility.
  1. Site Uptime: Above average website downtime, server issues and regular site maintenance makes for a bad user experience, and may harm your search visibility. Indeed, it can even lead to de-indexing if persistent problems are not corrected.
  1. Server Location: The location of your web server may influence rankings in different geographical regions. Server location is particularly significant with geo-specific searches.
  1. SSL Certificate: A recent Google algorithm update confirms that they do index SSL certificates and they now view HTTPS as a positive ranking factor.
  1. Terms of Service and Privacy Pages: Both these pages send signals to Google that you’re a trustworthy member of the internet community.
  1. Duplicate Meta Information On-Site: Don’t be lazy and copy/paste the same default meta data when creating new pages. Duplicate meta data can reduce the visibility in SERPs for all your pages.
  1. Breadcrumb Navigation: This is a style of user-friendly navigation which helps readers find their way around your website. It also helps search engines spider software to index your site pages thoroughly. Both Search Engine Journal and Ethical SEO Consulting agree that breadcrumb navigation can give your site a rankings boost.
  1. Optimised for Mobile Devices: More and more people search the internet using their phones and tablets, rather than a desktop PC. Google has officially stated that it wants websites to be mobile responsive to accommodate this trend. It’s highly likely that responsive websites have an advantage in mobie search. In fact, Google now adds ‘mobile friendly’ tags to websites that display well on mobile devices. Properly. They have also started penalising non-responsive sites in Mobile search.
  1. YouTube: There is little doubt Google gives preferential treatment to YouTube videos. Nothing of course to do with the fact that Google owns YouTube.

Video Search Results in Google

Search Engine Land found that YouTube traffic increased significantly after the Panda algorithm update.

  1. Site Usability: If a website doesn’t display properly, or its challenging to navigate, people get frustrated and quickly leave. This results in lower time on site and higher bounce rates. Synthesize all this data and clearly a site that’s not user-friendly will underperform in search rankings.
  1. Use of Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools: A school of thought that suggests having both these programs installed on your website will help with yourpage indexing. Certainly, the data produced by the programs will give Google more accurate information about things such as bounce rate and whether you get referral traffic from backlinks. It can be argued these programs directly influence your ranking.
  1. User Reviews and Site Reputation: It is likely the Google algorithm considers a website’s reputation on popular review sites. This again refers to the importance of trust online.

Backlink Factors

Factors relating to links to your website, from other websites.

  1. Linking Domain Age: Backlinks from well-established, older websites may carry more weight than those from new sites.
  1. Number of Linking Root Domains: One of the most importantant ranking factors in the Google algorithm is the number of referring domains. Every link from another website is effectively a vote of confidence, so its unsurprising that the highest ranked sites have a significant number of backlinks. Take a look at this chart from Moz (the bottom axis shows the SERPs position):

Linking Root Domains - Google Rankings

  1. Number of Links from Unique C-Class IP’s: Links from separate class-C IP addresses demonstrates a wider range of websites linking out to you.
  1. Number of Linking Pages: The overall number of internet pages that link to you – even if some of those pages exist on the same domain – is a ranking factor.
  1. Alt Tag for Image Links: The alt text is the image’s version of anchor text. If relevant keywords exist within the alt text then this can boost your rankings.
  1. Links from .edu or .gov Domains: Matt Cutts at Google has stated previously that the TLD is not factored in to assess a site’s importance. However, there are many SEO’s who believe there is a special place in the algorithm for the .edu and .gov TLD’s.
  1. Authority of Linking Page: The authority or PageRank of a referring webpage is a very significant ranking factor.
  1. Authority of Linking Domain: The authority of the referring domain may play an independent part when determining the importance of a link. For example, a link from a PR2 page on a site with a PR4 homepage probably doesn’t pack the same punch as a PR2 page at PR8 Yale.edu
  1. Links from Competitors: Links from webpages on other sites that rank well in the SERP may be more valuable for that particular keyword.
  1. Social Shares of Referring Page: The amount of page-level social shares may add value to the link.
  1. Links from ‘Bad Neighbourhoods’: Links from untrustworthy websites can harm your search visibility, as Google may consider you guilty by association.
  1. Guest Posts: Getting your articles posted on another website is a sound white hat SEO strategy. A contextual link back to your web site from within the body of the content will likely carry more weight than a link from within an author bio area.
  1. Links to Homepage Domain That Page Sits On: Links to a referring page’s homepage may play special importance in evaluating a site’s — and therefore a link’s — authority.
  1. NoFollow Links: This is one of the most controversial topics in SEO. Does Google actually follow ‘no-follow’ links? Here is Google’s official statement on the matter:

“In general, we don’t follow them.”

Which means, they do …at least under certain circumstances. Google probably assesses the percentage of no-follow links to judge a natural versus unnatural link profile.

  1. Diversity of Link Types: Links from a diverse range of sources is indicative of a natural link profile. Large numbers of links from similar sources, such as blog comments and forums posts, may be a sign of webspam.
  1. ‘Sponsored Links’ Or Other Similar Words Close to Link: Google may devalue a link associated with words such as ‘sponsors’, ‘link partners’, or ‘sponsored links’.
  1. Contextual Links: Links that are embedded within the body of content are generally more powerful than links that sit on an empty page, or elsewhere on the page.

Contextual Links Support Google Ranking

A good example of contextual links are backlinks from guestographics.

  1. Excessive 301 Redirects to Page: Links coming from 301 re-directs can dilute part or even all of a page’s PageRank, according to this webmaster help video.
  1. Backlink Anchor Text: This is a decription of anchor text from Google’s original algorithm:

“First, anchors often provide more accurate descriptions of web pages than the pages themselves.”

Anchor text is not as significant today, and sometimes it can point to webspam. But in small doses it sends strong relevancy signals to search engines.

  1. Internal Link Anchor Text: Internal link anchor text is another relevancy signal, but probably weighted differently to backlink anchor text.
  1. Link Title Attribution: The link title – the text that appears when you hover over a link – is a weak relevancy signal.
  1. Country TLD of Referring Domain: Acquiring links from specific country top level domains (eg. .ie, .fi, .it, .za) may help your rankings for your keyword in those specific countries.
  1. Link Location in Content: Links that appear at the beginning of content – within the first 100 words – carry more weight than those embedded near the end of a piece.
  1. Link Location on Page: Where a link appears on the page is an important consideration. Typically, a link embedded within the page’s content is more valuable than a link coming from the page’s footer or a sidebar.
  1. Linking Domain Relevancy: An effective SEO strategy should focus on getting relevant A link from another website that operates in a similar niche will give you a much bigger rankings boost compared to a link coming from a site in a totally different niche. For example, if your website is about sports cars, a link from a motor-sports site would be more powerful than a link coming from a website about umbrellas.
  1. Page Level Relevancy: Links between similar content are important. The Hilltop Algorithm states that a link from a page that is closely related to the content on your page is far more powerful than a link from an unrelated page.
  1. Text Around Link Sentiment: Google has probably been able to work out whether the link to your site is a positive recommendation, or forms part of a negative review. Links surrounded by positive sentiment are likely to carry more weight.
  1. Keyword in Title: Google likes to see ‘experts linking to experts’, so they’ll give extra SEO juice to links from pages that have your page’s keyword in the title.
  1. Positive Link Velocity: Google likes to see websites that have a rising popularity, so sites with a positive link velocity will likely get a SEO boost.
  1. Negative Link Velocity: By the same token, websites with a negative link velocity will likely see reduced visibility in SERPs as it signals a declining popularity.
  1. Links From ‘Hub’ Pages: Aaron Wall maintains that links from websites considered to be a respected resource on a particular subject (a hub) are likely to be seen in a positive light.
  1. Link From Authority Sites: Aaron Wall maintains that links from websites considered to be a respected resource on a particular subject (a hub) are likely to be seen in a positive light.
  1. Linked to as Wikipedia Source: Links from Wikipedia are ‘nofollow’. However, many people within SEO think that a link from Wikipedia will give you a little extra trust and authority in the eyes of search engines.
  1. Co-Occurances: The strength of backlink anchor text is in decline, and it’s widely felt that co-occurance will replace anchor text in terms of SEO rankings. Co-occurance takes the words that surround a link into consideration to indicate what the page linked to is all about.
  1. Backlink Age: Older links will give your page a larger boost than newly-minted backlinks.
  1. Links From Real Sites versus Splogs: Due to the proliferation of blogging networks, its likely that Google now gives more recognition to links from ‘real websites’ over those from fake blogs. Social sharing and user interaction are most probably used to distinguish between the two.
  1. Natural Link Profile: Over the years Google has become increasingly sophisticated at indentifying when a website owner is trying to take short-cuts and uses Black hat SEO tactics to increase their rankings. A webpage with a natural link profile will rank higher in the long term, and will be less vulnerable to updates of the Google algorithm.
  1. Reciprocal Links: Google’s Link Scheme page lists ‘excessive link exchange’ as a tactic to avoid.
  1. User-Generated Content Links: Google can indentify when a link comes from User Generated Content as opposed to the actual website owner. For example, they know that a link from the official blog at WordPress at en.blog.wordpress.com is very different to a link from trustedwidgetreviews.wordpress.com
  1. Links From 301: Links from 301 re-directs may leak some SEO juice compared to a direct link. But Matt Cutts at Google insists a 301 link is as good as a direct link.
  1. org Microformats: Pages that support microformats may rank better than pages that don’t. This could be a direct boost or it may be that pages with microformatting have a better SERPs CTR:

Using Structured Data for Improved Search

  1. DMOZ Listed: Many within SEO circles believe Google gives an extra sprinkling of SEO magic-dust to DMOZ-listed websites. [UPDATE] As of March 2017, DMOZ was closed down.
  1. TrustRank of Linking Site: The trustworthiness of a webpage linking to you will determine how much added ‘TrustRank’ is passed on.
  1. Number of Outbound Links on Page: There is only so much PageRank can be handed out. A link from a page that has hundreds of outbound links will not pass on as much PageRank through each link as a page with only a few, select links.
  1. Forum Profile Links: Practicioners of Black Hat SEO would once create multiple bios on forums, and leave numerous comments including links. This led to industrial-level spamming, so Google pays a lot less attention to forum links today.
  1. Word Count of Linking Content: A link from within an extensive 2,000 word article is more valuable than a link from a 30-word snippet.
  1. Quality of Linking Content: Links from poorly written, spun pieces of content are worth less compared to links from well-written content, that’s perhaps enhanced for the reader by use of multi-media.
  1. Sitewide Links: Matt Cutts has confirmed that sitewide links tend to be compounded and treated as a single link.

User Interaction Factors

Factors relating to how people interact with your website.

  1. Organic Click Through Rate (CTR) for a Keyword: Pages that get clicked more in CTR may get a SERPs boost for that keyword.
  1. Organic CTR for All Keywords: A page’s, or a website’s organic click-through-rate for all keywords that it ranks for, may be a human interaction signal.
  1. Bounce Rate: Bounce rate measures the percentage of people who land on your website, then leave without clicking through to any other pages to explore further. A high bounce rate would indicate a poor-quality page and Google probably use visitors as quality testers. However, many think that bounce rate doesn’t matter.
  1. Direct Traffic: Its been confirmed that Google uses data to determine whether someone has arrived at website directly, rather than via a search engine. Sites that enjoy a lot of direct traffic are probably of a higher quality compared to sites that receive very little direct traffic.
  1. Repeat Traffic: Google also looks to see whether people return to a website for a second visit. Sites with repeat traffic get a rankings boost.
  1. Blocked Sites: Google has now discontinued this feature in Chrome, but the Panda update used blocked sites as a quality signal.
  1. Chrome Bookmarks: We know that Google collects Chrome browser usage data, and pages that have been bookmarked in Chrome may get a rankings boost.
  1. Google Toolbar Data: Danny Goodwin at Search Engine Watch claims that Google uses toolbar data as a ranking signal. However, apart from page load speed and reports of malware, it’s not clear what information could be of use.
  1. Number of Comments: Pages with numerous comments is a strong signal of user interactivity and may improve the quality score.
  1. Dwell Time: Dwell time is the length of time a visitor remains on a page having arrived via a Google search, and Google pays very close attention to this metric. Its sometimes referred to as ‘long clicks versus short clicks’. If visitors are spending a lot of time on your website then this is probably used as a strong quality indicator.

Special Google Algorithm Rules

Factors relating to the Google search algorithm.

  1. Query Deserves Freshness: Google gives newer pages a boost for certain searches.
  1. Query Deserves Diversity: Google may serve up a smorgasbord of search results when ambiguous keywords are searched:

For example, “Ted”, “WWF”, and “python”.

  1. User Browsing History: Websites that you visit frequently will get a SERPs boost in your searches.
  1. User Search History: Your previous search history is likely to influence future searches. For example, if you search for ‘reviews’ and then subsequently search for ‘wireless headphones’ Google will probably serve up wireless headphone review websites higher in the search results.
  1. Geo Targeting: With location-specific searches, Google gives more weight to websites where the webserver has a local IP address, and a country-specific Top Level Domain extension.
  1. Safe Search: Websites that display swear-words, prophanities, adult content or other offensive material will not be visible in search if the user has ‘Safe Search’ enabled.
  1. Google+ Circles: Google will give pereference to authors and websites that you’ve added to your Google+ Circles.
  1. DMCA Complaints: Google penalizes websites with DMCA complaints.
  1. Domain Diversity: The so-called ‘Bigfoot Update identified by Moz.com supposedly added more domains to each SERPs page.
  1. Transactional Searches: Google will sometimes display different results for shopping-related keywords. Hotel room searches, for example.
  1. Local Searches: Google will often place Google+ Local results above the other search results.

Local Searches and Local SEO

  1. Google News Box: Certain keywords will trigger a Google News box:

Google News Impacts on SEO and Listings

  1. Big Brand Preference: After the Vince Update had landed, Google started giving well-known brands a boost for short-tail searches.
  1. Shopping Results: Google sometimes displays Google Shopping results in organic search.

Google Shopping Results influence search results

  1. Image Results: Google will often list image results in front of organic search, for common keywords entered into Google Image Search.
  1. Easter Egg Results: Google has getting on for around 20 Easter Egg results. For example, if you search ‘zerg rush’ from a desktop computer an army of Google O’s descend the page and destroy all the search results, unless you click on them to destroy them first.
  1. Single Site Results for Brands: Domain specific, or brand-oriented keywords will normally result in links to several pages all on the same site.

Social Signals

Factors relating to social media and sharing.

  1. Number of Tweets: Similar to backlinks, the number of times a webpage is tweeted may influence Google search results.
  1. Authority of Twitter Users Accounts: Tweets that come from established, authority Twitter profiles with substantial numbers of followers (think @HuffingtonPost with 9.64million followers) will have more effect compared to tweets from newer, low-influence profiles.
  1. Number of Facebook Likes: Although Google cannot see most Facebook accounts, it is likely that the number of ‘likes’ a webpage receives will send a weak ranking signal.
  1. Facebook Shares: Because they have more in common with backlinks, Facebook shares probably exert a stronger influence on rankings than Facebook likes.
  1. Authority of Facebook User Accounts: Similar to Twitter, ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ that come from popular Facebook pages are likely to pass on more SEO juice.
  1. Pinterest Pins: Pinterest is an incredibly popular social media platform, with a lot of public data. That’s probably why Google regards the social signals from Pinterest as very significant.
  1. Votes on Social Sharing Sites: It’s possible that Google uses shares at popular social sites such as Reddit, Digg, and Stumbleupon as social signals.
  1. Number of Google+1’s: Despite the fact that Matt Cutts has previously gone on record as saying Google+ has “no direct effect” on rankings, its hard to believe that Google would ignore their own social network.
  1. Authority of Google+ User Accounts: Its reasonable to assume that Google will prefer +1’s coming from authoritative Google+ accounts over those from accounts with few followers.
  1. Known Authorship: In February 2013 the Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously stated”

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results.”

Although the Google+ authorships program has since been closed down, its very likely Google uses some kind of authorship to determine online producers of influencial content, and gives them a SERPs boost accordingly.

  1. Social Signal Relevancy: To better guage relevancy Google probably uses information from the account of the user sharing the content, and text around the link.
  1. Site Level Social Signals: Site-wide social signals might increase a website’s overall authority, and in turn that will increase the visibility of all its pages in SERPs.

Brand Signals

Factors relating to your brand and company.

  1. Brand Name Anchor Text: Your brand or company name contained in anchor text is a simple, but very powerful relevancy signal.
  1. Branded Searches: Quite simply: people search for brands. Your brand or business name is likely to be uncommon if not unique, so searches containing your brand as a keyword should deliver your website near the top of results. If you don’t rank well for your own brand name, then you need some help, and fast! Call us.
  1. Site Has Facebook Page and Likes: Brand websites usually have an associated Facebook page with plenty of ‘likes’.
  1. Site Has Twitter Profile with Followers: If a website has an associated Twitter profile with lots of followers, this will often indicate a popular brand. Remember, people have personal brands nowadays.
  1. Official LinkedIn Company Page: Most real businesses today have a LinkedIn Company page. A brand without a LinkedIn page may suffer when it comes to TrustRank.
  1. Employees Listed at LinkedIn: Rand Fishkins thinks that if there are LinkedIn profiles saying they work for your company, this is a positive brand signal. Equally, a company page on LinkedIn that doesn’t list any employees may be viewed as suspect by Google.
  1. Legitimacy of Social Media Accounts: A social media account that claims to have 150,000 followers yet has made only 2 posts, will be viewed very differently to a profile with 150,000 followers and lots and lots of interaction.
  1. Brand Mentions on News Sites: Some really big brands are mentioned on Google News almost daily. In fact, some even have their own Google News feed on the first page.

Brand Mentions and Google Ranking Algorithm

  1. Co-Citations: A brand-name will often be mentioned in content, without being linked to. Brand mentions without hyperlinks will still probably be viewed by Google as brand signals.
  1. Number of RSS Subscribers: Considering Google owns the popular Feedburner RSS aggregation feed service it makes perfect sense to assume they might use number of RSS subscribers as a sign of popularity.
  1. Bricks and Mortar Location with Google+ Local Listing: Real businesses have employees and usually a place-of-work for those employees. Its likely Google will look for evidence of an office location to determine whether the business is a big brand or not.
  1. Website is Tax Paying Business: Moz.com reports that Google may try to associate a website with a tax-paying business. Ironic.

On-Site Webspam Factors

Factors relating to low quality aspects of a website.

  1. Panda Penalty: Websites with low quality content, particularly content farms, were hit hard by the Panda update. Consequently, these sites have fallen way down the rankings.
  1. Links to Bad Neighbourhoods: Linking out to ‘bad neighbourhoods’ such as pharmacy, adult content, or pay-day loan websites will very likely harm your brand visibility in SERPs.
  1. Redirects: Mis-leading redirects are considered a form of cloaking, and a violation of the Google Webmasters Guidelines. This is because users will be directed to content they were not expecting. If you’re caught you could risk not only a penalty, but getting your website de-indexed.
  1. Pop-Ups or Distracting Ads: Nobody likes those ads that pop-up on your screen when you’re trying to read a piece of content. It’s the definition of ‘interruption marketing’. The official Google Rater Guidleines Document states that popups and other distracting adverts typically signify a poor quality site.
  1. Site Over-Optimisation: This includes on-page black hat tactics such as keyword stuffing, excessive keyword decoration, and header-tag stuffing.

An example of keyword decoration is bolding, italicising, and underlining:

“We sell some of the best widgets in the country.”

  1. Page Over-Optimisation: Many SEO experts have reported that unlike the Panda update to the Google algorithm, the Penguin update targets individual webpages, and even specific keywords.
  1. Ads Above The Fold: The ‘Page Layout Algorithm’ penalizes websites that display multiple adverts above the fold, and not much by way of content.
  1. Hiding Affiliate Links: Google likes transparency, and if you have affiliate links on your website you should make it clear. There is nothing overtly wrong with affiliate links, but it may suggest a bias to users, and they should be made aware you will benefit financially if they follow your link and subsequently make a purchase. Trying to disguise, hide or cloak affiliate links can result in a penalty.
  1. Affiliate Sites: Google makes no secret that they’re not the biggest fans of affiliate websites. Many think that sites largely monetized through affiliate links are placed under closer scrutiny.
  1. Autogenerated Content: Neither is Google a big cheerleader of auto-generated content. If they suspect you are robotically pumping out auto-generated content you could suffer a penalyy or even risk de-indexing.
  1. Excess PageRank Sculpting: If you go overboard with PageRank sculpting this could be interpreted as playing the system. Sculpting can include ‘nofollowing’ all your outbound links, and most of your internal links.
  1. IP Address Flagged as Spam: If your webserver’s IP address is flagged for spam, it can hurt all the websites that sit on that server. As an innocent website owner, you could suffer because of someone else’s malpractice. This alone is a reason to opt for dedicated hosting, or at the very least get your WordPress website hosted on a dedicated WordPress server.
  1. Meta Tag Spamming: Keyword stuffing also occurs in meta tags. If Google thinks your adding keywords to your meta tags just to fool the Google algorithm, then be prepared to get hit with a penalty.

Google Search Algorithm - 200 Ranking Factors - Meta data

Off-Page Webspam Factors

Factors relating to spammy off-site SEO tactics.

  1. Unnatural Influx of Links: A sudden and unprecedented influx of links, which is clearly unnatural, is a definite indicator of dodgy links.
  1. Penguin Penalty: Websites that were hit by the Penguin update are now significantly less visible in search results.
  1. Link Profile with High Percentage of Low Quality Links: Lots of links from sources commonly used by black hat SEO practicioners, particularly blog comments and forum posts, is likely to be viewed by Google as an attempt to game the system.
  1. Linking Domain Relevancy: Google craves relevancy. The famous study by MicroSiteMasters.com found that websites with an unnaturally high proportion of links from irrelevant sites were far more vulnerable to Penguin.

Google Search Algorithm - 200 Ranking Factors

  1. Unnatural Links Warning: Google sends out thousands of ‘Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links’ warnings. These usually precede a drop in the rankings, but not 100% of the time.
  1. Links From the Same Class-C IP: Building up a considerable number of links from websites which all sit on the same webserver IP, may indicate a blog network in operation.
  1. ‘Poison’ Anchor Text: If you find ‘poison’ anchor text keywords pointing at your website, particularly pharmacy keywords, this may be a sign of spam or even a hacked site. Either way it can harm your rankings and you should investigate.
  1. Manual Penalty: Google has been known to hand out manual arbitrary penalties, which was the case with Interflora.
  1. Selling Links: Selling links can definitely have a negative impact on toolbar PageRank, and can also be harmful to search visibility.
  1. Google Sandbox: New websites that get a sudden influx of links is not a natural way for a link profile to develop. These sites can be placed in a Google sandbox, which temporarily limits search visibility.
  1. Google Dance: When the Google Dance happens it can really put the cat among the pigeons, so to speak. It may be a way for them to determine whether a website is trying to game the Google algorithm.
  1. Disavow Tool: Websites that have fallen victim to black hat SEO methods can use the Disavow Tool to try and remove manual or algorithmic penalties.
  1. Reconsideration Request: If a reconsideration request is successful, Google may lift a previously imposed penalty.
  1. Temporary Link Schemes: Google has apparently gotten wise to people who create and then quickly remove spammy links. These are known as temporary link schemes.

How can I apply this information to my website?

Of course, to apply each-and-every single one of these 200+ ranking factors to your own website would be a mammoth task, and you would see acutely diminishing returns for your efforts.

Which is why we’ve identified the 10 most important ranking factors from the list, and put them together in a free checklist for you to download as a PDF document.

eBook: 10 Most Important Ranking Factors for SEO

The checklist also includes actionable strategies to help your website rank higher, attract more visitors, and get you more sales.

This list has been updated for 2017. Thanks and credit go to Brian Dean who posted the original list on his website.

Ryan Sedgwick
Managing Director & Marketing Consultant at Impact Digital Markeitng
A Chartered Marketer, Ryan has gained extensive B2B and B2C marketing experience working across a broad spectrum of industries. Having graduated with a Masters in Marketing Communications from the University of Huddersfield, Ryan successfully utilises his skills and knowledge to effectively support businesses in getting the most from their marketing investments.