google ranking tactics for the current year
Google Ranking Factors blog banner
You might already know that Google uses over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm…
But what are they, exactly?
Well, you’re in for a treat because I’ve put together a complete list.
Some are proven.
Some are controversial.
Others are SEO nerd speculation.
But they’re all here.
And I recently updated this entire list for 2024.
Let’s dive right in.
The Top 8 Factors
Special Google Algorithm Rules
On-Site Webspam Factors
Off-Site Webspam Factors
The Top 8 Factors
These are the top 8 SEO ranking factors. There are 200+ other factors that Google takes into account, but these are the ones that you should focus on first:
Quality Content: The most important SEO factor. Google wants to show users high-quality, informative, and relevant content.
Backlinks: Links from other websites to your website. They act like votes of confidence. The more high-quality backlinks you have, the higher your website will rank.
Technical SEO: The technical aspects of your website, such as its website speed, mobile-friendliness, and crawlability. Make sure your website is technically sound so that search engines can easily index and understand your content.
Keyword Optimization: The process of using relevant keywords throughout your website’s content. This helps search engines understand what your website is about.
User Experience (UX): A measure of how easy and enjoyable it is for users to use your website. Google wants to show users websites that provide a good UX.
Schema Markup: A type of structured data that you can add to your website to help search engines better understand your content.
Social Signals: The likes, shares, and other social interactions that your website’s content receives. Make sure your website is shareable and encourages social interaction.
Brand Signals: The overall perception of your brand online. Make sure your brand is well-known and respected.
- Domain Age: Many SEOs believe that Google inherently “trusts” older domains. However, Google’s John Mueller has said “domain age helps nothing“.
- Keyword Appears in Top Level Domain: Having a keyword in your domain name doesn’t give you the SEO boost that it used to. But it still acts as a relevancy signal.
- Domain registration length: A Google patent 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.”
- Keyword in Subdomain: Moz’s expert panel agrees that a keyword appearing in the subdomain can boost rankings.
keyword appears in subdomain
- Domain History: A site with volatile ownership or several drops may tell Google to “reset” the site’s history, negating links pointing to the domain. Or, in certain cases, a penalized domain may carry the penalty over to the new owner.
- Exact Match Domain: Exact Match Domains probably have little to no direct SEO benefit. But if your EMD happens to be a low-quality site, it’s vulnerable to the EMD update.
Search Engine Land – Google EMD update
- Public vs. Private WhoIs: Private WhoIs information may be a sign of “something to hide”. Googler Matt Cutts is quoted as stating:
“…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.”
- Penalized WhoIs Owner: If Google identifies a particular person as a spammer it makes sense that they would scrutinize other sites owned by that person.
- Country TLD extension: Having a Country Code Top Level Domain (.cn, .pt, .ca) can sometimes help the site rank for that particular country… but it can limit the site’s ability to rank globally.
- Keyword in Title Tag: Although not as important as it once was, your title tag remains an important on-page SEO signal.
Title tag contains keyword
- Title Tag Starts with Keyword: According to Moz, title tags that start with a keyword tend to perform better than title tags where the keyword appears at the end of the tag.
- Keyword in Description Tag: Google doesn’t use the meta description tag as a direct ranking signal. However, your description tag can impact click-through-rate, which is a key ranking factor.
- Keyword Appears in H1 Tag: H1 tags are a “second title tag”. Along with your title tag, Google uses your H1 tag as a secondary relevancy signal, according to results from one correlation study:
h1 tag study
- TF-IDF: A fancy way of saying: “How often does a certain word appear in a document?”. The more often that word appears on a page, the more likely it is that the page is about that word. Google likely uses a sophisticated version of TF-IDF.
- Content Length: Content with more words can cover a wider breadth and are likely preferable in the algorithm compared to shorter, superficial articles. Indeed, one recent ranking factors industry study found that the average first page Google result was about 1400 words in length.
Word Count Rankings
- Table of Contents: Using a linked table of contents can help Google better understand your page’s content. It can also result in sitelinks:
Sitelinks in Google SERP
- Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords in Content (LSI): LSI keywords help search engines extract meaning from words that have more than one meaning (for example: Apple the computer company vs. Apple the fruit). The presence/absence of LSI probably also acts as a content quality signal.
- LSI Keywords in Title and Description Tags: As with webpage content, LSI keywords in page meta tags probably help Google discern between words with multiple potential meanings. May also act as a relevancy signal.
- Page Covers Topic In-Depth: There’s a clear correlation between depth of topic coverage and Google rankings. Therefore, pages that cover every angle likely have an edge vs. pages that only cover a topic partially.
content in depth
- Page Loading Speed via HTML: Both Google and Bing use page speed as a ranking factor. Google now uses actual Chrome user data to evaluate loading speed.
Google PageSpeed Insights – Backlinko
- Use of AMP: While not a direct Google ranking factor, AMP may be a requirement to rank in the mobile version of the Google News Carousel.
- Entity Match: Does a page’s content match the “entity” that a user is searching for? If so, that page may get a rankings boost for that keyword.
- Google Hummingbird: This “algorithm change” helped Google go beyond keywords. Thanks to Hummingbird, Google can now better understand the topic of a webpage.
- Duplicate Content: Identical content on the same site (even slightly modified) can negatively influence a site’s search engine visibility.
- Rel=Canonical: When used properly, use of this tag may prevent Google from penalizing your site for duplicate content.
- Image Optimization: Images send search engines important relevancy signals through their file name, alt text, title, description and caption. Optimizing your images for search is critical to ensure they are able to be indexed properly.
- Content Recency: Google Caffeine update favors recently published or updated content, especially for time-sensitive searches. Highlighting this factor’s importance, Google shows the date of a page’s last update for certain pages:
Google SERP – Last updated
- Magnitude of Content Updates: The significance of edits and changes also serves as a freshness factor. Adding or removing entire sections is more significant than switching around the order of a few words or fixing a typo.
- Historical Page Updates: How often has the page been updated over time? Daily, weekly, every 5 years? Frequency of page updates also play a role in freshness.
- Keyword Prominence: Having a keyword appear in the first 100 words of a page’s content is correlated to first page Google rankings.
- Keyword in H2, H3 Tags: Having your keyword appear as a subheading in H2 or H3 format may be another weak relevancy signal. In fact, Googler John Mueller states:
“These heading tags in HTML help us to understand the structure of the page.”
- Outbound Link Quality: Many SEOs think that linking out to authority sites helps send trust signals to Google. And this is backed up by a recent industry study.
- Outbound Link Theme: According to The Hilltop Algorithm, Google may use the content of the pages you link to as a relevancy signal. For example, if you have a page about cars that links to movie-related pages, this may tell Google that your page is about the movie Cars, not the automobile.
- Grammar and Spelling: Proper grammar and spelling is a quality signal, although Cutts gave mixed messages a few years back on whether or not this was important.
- Syndicated Content: Is the content on the page original? If it’s scraped or copied from an indexed page it won’t rank as well… or may not get indexed at all.
- Mobile-Friendly Update: Often referred to as “Mobilegeddon“, this update rewarded pages that were properly optimized for mobile devices.
- Mobile Usability: Websites that mobile users can easily use may have an edge in Google’s “Mobile-first Index”.
- “Hidden” Content on Mobile: Hidden content on mobile devices may not get indexed (or may not be weighed as heavily) vs. fully visible content. However, a Googler recently stated that hidden content is OK. But also said that in the same video, “…if it’s critical content it should be visible…”.
- Helpful “Supplementary Content”: According to a now-public Google Rater Guidelines Document, helpful supplementary content is an indicator of a page’s quality (and therefore, Google ranking). Examples include currency converters, loan interest calculators and interactive recipes.
- Content Hidden Behind Tabs: Do users need to click on a tab to reveal some of the content on your page? If so, Google has said that this content “may not be indexed”.
- Number of Outbound Links: Too many dofollow OBLs can “leak” PageRank, which can hurt that page’s rankings.
- Multimedia: Images, videos and other multimedia elements may act as a content quality signal.
- Number of Internal Links Pointing to Page: The number of internal links to a page indicates its importance relative to other pages on the site (more internal links=more important).
- Quality of Internal Links Pointing to Page: Internal links from authoritative pages on domain have a stronger effect than pages with no or low PageRank.
- Broken Links: Having too many broken links on a page may be a sign of a neglected or abandoned site. The Google Rater Guidelines Document uses broken links as one was to assess a homepage’s quality.
- Reading Level: There’s no doubt that Google estimates the reading level of webpages. In fact, Google used to give you reading level stats:
Google Reading Level
But what they do with that information is up for debate. Some say that a basic reading level will help you rank better because it will appeal to the masses. But others associate a basic reading level with content mills like Ezine Articles.
- Affiliate Links: Affiliate links themselves probably won’t hurt your rankings. But if you have too many, Google’s algorithm may pay closer attention to other quality signals to make sure you’re not a “thin affiliate site“.
- HTML errors/W3C validation: Lots of HTML errors or sloppy coding may be a sign of a poor quality site. While controversial, many in SEO think that a well-coded page is used as a quality signal.
- Domain Authority: All things being equal, a page on an authoritative domain will rank higher than a page on a domain with less authority.
- Page’s PageRank: Not perfectly correlated. But pages with lots of authority tend to outrank pages without much link authority.