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The Most Important Google Ranking Factors in 2022

Find out which ranking factors are the most important and rank higher on Google's SERPs

Alex
Content & HARO Manager

You will often hear or read that there are 200 Google ranking factors. This, however, is a myth, the origin of which is likely found in a statement made by Google’s Matt Cutts, who said that Google used “over 200 variables” in its ranking algorithm. These 200 variables have been implemented and integrated into page rank over the course of the past 20 years, with each new core update adding more variables to Google’s increasingly sophisticated ranking algorithm. 

Some Google ranking factors are more relevant and more important than others, however, when it comes to how well your website and its pages are likely to rank in the SERP. This article will delve into those ranking factors, why they are so important and how you can target them to improve your page rank. These factors are: 

  • Your Content Quality and Depth
  • Your External Links (Page and Website-level)
  • Search Intent
  • Topical Authority
  • Internal Links
  • Effective and Tactful Keyword Optimization
  • Page Experience
  • Core Web Vitals
  • Page Freshness
  • High-Quality Product Review Content
  • Domain Authority

Your Content Quality and Depth

It makes sense that content quality and depth would be one of the most important Google ranking factors because Google sees this factor as one of the best ways to ensure it remains the world’s dominant search engine.

The better your content is able to answer a searcher’s query, the more valuable it is, and the more likely it will be that Google decides it is worthy of a top spot in the SERP. Google’s algorithm reads your content and then tries to judge whether or not it is helpful to the person who has searched it. 

It used to be that simply having a longer word count than the competition was more likely to get you a top spot in the SERP. That isn’t really the case any longer. Depth (i.e., how well you cover a topic related to the search terms) is how you show Google that you are worthy. 

The SEO Expert Take

Both Ahrefs and Backlinko, two of the most authoritative SEO resources on the web, concur that content depth (or grade) is one of the foundational Google ranking factors. If you improve your content depth/grade, you rise in the rankings.

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google’s Search Central guide is adamant that comprehensive, in-depth, E-A-T content is one of the fastest ways to its heart. Its exact quote is that good content should be viewed as a “complete recipe that is easy to follow rather than just a set of ingredients or a basic description of the dish.” 

The Bottom Line

The days of low-effort, quantity-over-quality content are definitely over. Google’s ability to determine how well and authoratatively you have covered a topic is very advanced and sloppy, lazy content is not going to be rewarded. 

Your External Links (Page and Website-level)

The number of high quality links pointing to a page or an entire website have an impact on page rank. This has been the case since Google first rolled out its page rank algorithm. Having links from relevant, high authority websites that point back to individual pages or your homepage are one of the most important ranking factors. Links indicate the quality of your content, so if another site has decided to link to you, it’s a reliable sign that your content deserves promotion in the SERP. 

The SEO Expert Take

The expert take–again Backlinkko and Ahrefs–based on their research is that the top ranking pages on Google have far more backlinks than those in the next 9 SERP spots. Ahrefs studied a billion pages and found that the more backlinks a page has, the more organic traffic it is going to receive. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google has always made it clear that backlinks are one of the essential ranking factors, although it has never confirmed exactly how important they are. Relevancy and quality, however, tend to be more important indicators of SERP worthiness than simply quantiy of links. While links aren’t a standin for quality, in-depth content, having relevant backlinks from high authority sites are definitely among the most important of the Google ranking factors. 

The Bottom Line

While Google is probably not going to explicitly state anything that would enable SEOs to game the system with links (something that is already done to death), we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that when a lot of high-authority sites link back to you, provided you do a lot of other things well, you are going to see a better ranking. 

Search Intent

Search intent refers to the extent to which the content of a page reflects the request for information or “intent” of the person who is being directed to it. Intent is a pretty straightforward concept and pages that feature content that best match the intent of the person searching are the ones that get displayed on page 1 of the SERP.

If you search for “best river kayak,” Google is going to show you a list of pages that, among other things, provide information on the best river kayaks. If you search “energy efficient window installation + your area” you are going to get a list of window installers around you. Backlinks and search intent match are perhaps the two most powerful Google ranking factors. That shouldn’t be a surprise, as Google wants its users to see the most relevant content available. 

The SEO Expert Take

The SEO consensus is that search intent should be given top, and maybe even the most priority among Google ranking factors.

All of the biggest SEO analysts and industry pundits agree that Google’s objective is to satisfy searcher intent so people continue to come to Google as the world’s biggest and best search engine. 

One example of the power of search intent is the fact that when someone searches for a particular brand in Google, that brand’s website is almost always in the top spot on the SERP. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google goes to great lengths to stress the importance of “needs met” (i.e., intent) in its search quality guidelines. Google wants to maintain its position as the dominant search engine and it views focusing on satisfying search intent with its results pages as the best way to do this. 

The Bottom Line

If you want Google to like your content, you need to satisfy a user’s query. Google sees its dominance in the search engine marketplace as a function of providing the most relevant, high-quality content possible each and every time someone enters something into the search bar. Help them do this and they will make your pages more visible to searchers. 

Topical Authority

Topical authority is another of the important Google ranking factors and it refers to how relevant a domain is to the search query. If you run a site dedicated to water sports, you have a high topical authority with respect to surfing. A home and garden site isn’t going to have much (if any) topical authority with respect to investing and money management. 

THE SEO Expert Take

As with many of the Google ranking factors, the extent to which topical authority matters is a subject to some conjecture, but all of the big players, from FirstPageSEO to Ahrefs, acknowledge that it’s important.

Having a good internal linking and page hub strategy are two potential ways to indicate to Google that your page or entire site has high topical authority, which makes it more likely that you rank. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

In Google’s own words, sites should “cultivate a reputation for expertise and trustworthiness in a specific area” and that quality content is that which is “created or edited by people with expertise in the topic.” While this isn’t hard evidence, it certainly suggests that Google has a marked preference for sites that demonstrate topical authority. 

The Bottom Line

Stay in your lane. Be careful about trying to capitalize on trends or game the system by writing about things that you have no expertise in or which have nothing to do with your domain. Just because a topic is trending and getting a ton of clicks, doesn’t mean any site that publishes related content will enjoy a lot of organic traffic. Creating relevant, trustworthy content in your niche is your best bet. 

Internal Links

Your internal links are those which link different pages on your site, as opposed to external links, which are from other sites pointing back to your domain/pages. Thanks to modern web design, most sites do at least some basic internal linking to important pages via header and footer menus that are accessible on every page of the website. This is far from an optimized external linking strategy hower. 

Importance of internal linking according to Google

Internal links are one of the Google ranking factors you should spend a lot of time targeting because of how Google works. The bottom line is that Google is a machine, not a person. In order for it to read your website and make accurate evaluations with respect to things like the aforementioned topical authority. 

The SEO Expert Take

Again, the major SEO players like Ahrefs and Ninja Outreach insist that internal links are an important part of SEO success. If you want Google to properly index, qualify and rank your site, you need to help it (and users) navigate it. It is little wonder that all of the big SEO plugins for content management systems like WordPress have internal link inclusion as one of the SEO evaluation metrics. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google has made it clear that the way it discovers new pages on your site is by following the links from already indexed pages. What’s more, internal link anchor text also helps contextualize and explain information about the linked page’s topic. Google has indicated as recently as 2018 that internal links are part of how it ranks pages. 

The Bottom Line

Google uses your internal links (and the anchor text you use to hyperlink) to navigate your pages and determine relevancy. 

Effective and Tactful Keyword Optimization

Keyword optimization has been one of the foundational Google ranking factors since the early 2000s, and it is one of the simplest things a site owner can do to improve their SEO. URLs, title tag and page headers that contain keywords send Google clear and important relevancy signals. 

Keyword overview

The SEO Expert Take

The SEO experts–Backlinko, Authority Hacker, people like Kyle Roof–-concur that strategic keyword use within content and title tags is key. How and where keywords make the most impact, however, is debatable. Backlinko found that a “majority of title tags in Google exactly or partially match the keyword they rank for,” but also found no correlation between making use of a keyword and first-page ranking. 

Authority Hacker found a correlation between keyword use within content, as well as in H1 and title tags, with keyword use in the latter two categories having a strong ranking correlation. SEO expert Kyle Roof contends that keyword density and placement are important for satisfying Google’s algorithm, which scans pages and looks for instances of certain keywords and phrases.

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google, as usual, plays it pretty close to the chest when giving away anything concrete. It warns against keyword stuffing and inserting irrelevant keywords into an article. 

The Bottom Line

Effective keyword use is one of the important Google ranking factors and there is both an art and a science to it. There are certain places–such as H1 and H2 titles and meta descriptions–where you should absolutely use your target keyword(s).

Aside from that, “keyword stuffing” is obviously something to avoid, but determining appropriate keyword density is ultimately a judgement call. 

Page Experience

Page experience include signals that the searcher has found what they are looking for on a page. These signals include things such as dwell time, the bounce rate and the CTR or click-through rate. The assumption among SEOs is that Google is more likely to rank pages with longer dwell times, lower bounce rates and higher click-through rates because it would suggest that these pages do a better job answering or satisfying a search query. 

The SEO Expert Take

Page experience is definitely one of the Google ranking factors to consider when designing a website and building your content strategy. There appears to be a well-supported correlation between how long someone spends on your site and your ranking.

Bear in mind that Google very likely has other ways of measuring user satisfaction that it won’t disclose but which impact user paeg experience. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google maintains that it doesn’t consider “interaction metrics” to be one of its ranking factors. While you can probably take this at face value (Google doesn’t have a habit of saying things that are untrue, only of being vague or cryptic), page experience metrics can act as a good proxy for content quality. 

The Bottom Line

Page experience appears to be a pretty reliable proxy for how well you have designed your content. If someone wants to spend time on your site or a page(s), it’s a good indication that you have done a good job and Google will likely think so too. 

Core Web Vitals

Your core web vitals are 3 Google ranking factors that are used to guage user experience when they land on a page. They are: 

  • First input delay (FID): How long the browser takes to respond when a user tries to interact with a page.
  • Cumulative layout shift (CLS): Measures how the layout of a page changes as it loads (i.e., what gets shifted around).
  • And largest contentful paint (LCP): This measures how long a page’s largest content element takes to fully load.

The SEO Expert Take

Core web vitals is one of the newer Google ranking factors and, as such, there aren’t too many case studies that make definitive claims. The SEO expert consensus is that it’s a more minor Google ranking factor. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google does contend that it’s a ranking factor, and says that by making improvements to core vitals that take pages from “need improvement” to “good” you can increase ranking. 

The Bottom Line

Your core vitals are important user experience indicators and Google is all about user experience. 

Page Freshness

Page freshness refers to how recently a page has been published and/or updated. It is certainly a ranking factor, although how important of one depends on the search query. For example, any terms having to do with breaking news will usually show pages that have been published or updated in the preceeding days or hours. If you search “Ukraine news” for instance, this is what you might see: 

Other search terms would also factor in freshness but perhaps not to the same extent. Something like “social media marketing best practices” would show you pages that have been updated in the last couple of months. This is a reflection of the fact that social media marketing best practices are constantly changing. 

The SEO Expert Take

Everyone from Search Engine Journal to Ahrefs agrees that freshness is one of the most important Google ranking factors, especially for date-sensitive content. By updating and improving old content, it is possible to see ranking increases. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google does say that page freshness is something it considers where current events, breaking news, contemporary information and product queries are concerned. 

The Bottom Line

There is a reason that running a website involves never-ending attention to content and its freshness. If you want to rise in the rankings, or even just maintain your place, you can’t let content get stale. 

High-Quality Product Review Content

Product reviews are content pages that are targeted towards searchers looking for information on or to buy particular products. In 2021, Google rolled out some major changes to how it views and evaluates this type of content, with an eye to weeding out the massive amount of low-effort, low-quality reviews out there. 

Google explicitly stated that product reviews should contain: 

  1. Evidence of your experience with or authority on a given product
  2. Sponsored links to multiple different sellers of a product 

The SEO Expert Take

If you look at any of the big SEOs running affiliate sites where product reviews make up a considerable portion of the content/revenue, almost all of them acknowledge significant fluctuations in traffic after this new core update. 

The social media pages of companies like Authority Hacker are also filled with affiliate sites and marketers discussing the effects of these new product review stipulations. From the way the people who are most familiar with this type of content are talking and discussing the new guidelines, Google is clearly making major moves with respect to product reviews. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

In typical Google fashion, it has indicated that it wants to promote high-quality review content without giving away too many specifics. 

The Bottom Line

If you want to sell things to people using Google’s search engine, then Google has to believe you are a trustworthy source of information about a product or service. 

Domain Authority

Your domain authority (DA) is a term used by search engine analytics company MOZ to evaluate a site’s backlink profile. How to increase domain authority is something that every SEO and webmaster spends a lot of time thinking about because DA is seen as a reliable indicator of a site’s authority and trustworthiness. High authority sites have a lot of backlinks from other high authority sites. Low authority sites tend to have less links overall and less from high authority sites. 

Your DA (or DR) are calculated logarithmically, which means it is harder to increase your score the higher your DA/DR becomes. It is also a relational score, meaning that if your competitors are increasing their backlinks at a faster rate than you, theirs will go up while yours drops. 

You can either go about the arduous work of building links on your own or you can recruit the help of an expert link building service to help you build high-quality backlinks at scale. 

The SEO Expert Take

Is DA the most important of the Google ranking factors? There are some different takes out there. Backlinko, for instance, contends that higher DA/DR tends to mean a higher ranking on the first page of the SERP.

Authority Hacker uses the words “somewhat relevant” in its evaluation of this ranking factor’s importance. Ahrefs believes that page authority has a larger impact on ranking than domain authority, but that domain authority can influence individual page rank by passing on domain-level link juice through internal links. 

From Google’s Own Mouth

Google has stated that it does not have its own authority score and also that it will sometimes look at an overall domain to determine where new pages should rank. 

It is important to keep in mind that both DA and DR are proprietary correlates that belong to and are used by third parties. They have not been developed in concert with Google and, therefore, are not official measures of anything other than these companies’ (MOZ, SEMrush, and Ahrefs) educated analyses of how backlink profile determines page rank. 

The Bottom Line

While correlates like DA and DR are, by nature, subjective (Google didn’t consult on the development of these systems), there is plenty of evidence to suggest that high DA/DR sites (i.e., those with strong, authoritative backlink profiles) dominate the SERP. 

Other Important Technical Considerations That Are Google Ranking Factors

In addition to the above ranking factors, there are some standard technical features of any good modern website that you should focus on if you want to improve your chances of ranking. They are: 

  • HTTPS: Thiis is the latest encryption protocol used to encrypt data sent between browsers and sites. Google acknowledges that this is a ranking signal it considers. 
  • Responsiveness: This refers to how well your website displays on a variety of screen sizes and browsers, with mobile being the most important. How well as site performs on mobile determine both desktop and mobile ranking. 
  • Good indexing:Your site will only rank if Google is able to index it. If you find that you are having a hard time ranking a new site, you should make sure you are doing all of the indexing steps properly. 

How Understanding Google’s Long-Term Strategic Plans Can Help You Rank

While Google’s grip on the search engine market is very firm, it is not a space without competition. Other search engines like Bing, Mozilla and DuckDuckGo compete with Google for users and, therefore, revenue. Search engine analytics giant Ahrefs has plans for its own search engine and it is unlikely that there won’t be additional new challengers to Google in the future. 

Google, therefore, has an interest in providing its users the best online experience possible. In short, it wants its search engine to show users the most relevant, high-quality results each and every time they search something. 

If you understand the evolution of Google ranking factors as a business strategy by Google, you are better able to conceptualize how and why Google wants and doens’t want certain kinds of content/sites and, therefore, design yours accordingly. 

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