January 19, 2024

The Top 3 Google Ranking Factors That Really Matter (Festive Flashback)

The Top 3 Google Ranking Factors That Really Matter (Festive Flashback)


Understanding the intricate world of Google ranking factors is essential for any SEO professional seeking to optimize web content and achieve prominent SERP visibility. However, the evolving nature of Google’s algorithms and the absence of a definitive list make this task both challenging and exciting.

The Ever-Evolving SEO Landscape

Gone are the days when search engines operated on a simplistic level, primarily influenced by keyword stuffing and link quantity. Today, SEO has evolved into a complex and nuanced discipline, with different verticals and keywords requiring unique ranking approaches.

The Mythical "Google 200 Ranking Factors"

Before delving into essential factors, it’s crucial to address the mythical “Google 200 Ranking Factors.” Originating from a 2009 speech by Matt Cutts, this number has been perpetuated in SEO circles. However, Google’s algorithms have evolved significantly, incorporating numerous factors and machine learning overlays.

Insights from Yandex: Revealing the Complexity

In January 2023, a Yandex leak disclosed around 690 ranking factors, shedding light on how a major search engine applies factors and signals for ranking. This leak hinted at similarities between Yandex and Google, emphasizing the importance of factors like on-page content, links, meta-data, and user interactions.

Deciphering Google's Semantics: Factors, Systems, and Signals

Google’s documentation updates often spark intense scrutiny from SEO professionals, leading to debates on the semantics of factors, systems, and signals. The distinction between these terms, as clarified by Gary Illyes, lies in language, with ranking systems serving as machine learning layers refining search results.

Fundamental Ranking Factors According to Google

Google’s two official pages, “A guide to Google Search ranking systems” and “How Search Works,” outline key factors that determine result relevance. These include meaning, relevance, quality, usability, and context, highlighting Google’s commitment to providing the most useful information.

The Top 3 Google Ranking Factors That Really Matter (Festive Flashback)

The 3 Essential Ranking Factors Every SEO Pro Should Prioritize

1. High-Quality Content

Understanding the user’s query and aligning it with relevant, high-quality content remains the foundational aspect of ranking. Quality content, embodying Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T), is critical for SEO success.

Google's Content-Related Systems

Helpful Content System (2022): Focused on providing the best content to users, rewarding satisfying experiences.
RankBrain (2015): A machine learning system understanding search query intent and refining results.
BERT (2018): Significantly impacting search queries, especially regarding stop words and nuanced meanings.
MUM (2021): A multimodal system for understanding text, images, and potentially video, expanding search capabilities.

2. Page Experience

Introduced in 2021, Page Experience comprises HTTPS, Page Speed, Mobile Friendliness, and Core Web Vitals. While not the most critical factor, it contributes to Google’s goal of delivering a superior user experience.

3. Links

Links have historically played a pivotal role in ranking, although Google has attempted to combat link spam. While some debates suggest a diminishing role for links, their quality and relevance continue to influence ranking.

The Impact of Internal and Inbound Links

Importance of Links: Highlighted in Google founders’ original paper, emphasizing citations in a ranking system.
Evolution of Link Importance: Downplayed by Google over the years, yet still acknowledged as a factor by industry experts.
Internal and Inbound Links: Crucial for crawling, indexing, and establishing relevancy, with quality outweighing quantity.

Navigating the SEO Landscape

In conclusion, the dynamic nature of SEO, coupled with Google’s evolving algorithms, requires a strategic and nuanced approach. While a definitive list of ranking factors may be elusive, focusing on user-centric content, optimal page experiences, and quality links remains paramount. Understanding Google’s motivation and adapting strategies accordingly proves essential in the ever-changing SEO landscape.

Acknowledgments: The author extends gratitude to Pedro Dias, Ammon Johns, and Dan Taylor for their valuable insights and expertise.