Google Ranking Factors: What are the Top 10 Most Important?

Google Ranking Factors: Top 10 Most Important
Table of Contents

It is a well known fact that Google is the smartest search engine in the world. In fact, the Google search platform, algorithm, and how it ranks everything, is considered to be one of the largest Artificial intelligence machines in the world. There are over 200 publicly confirmed Google ranking factors. What are the top 10 most important Google ranking factors?

The top 10 most important Google ranking factors are:

  1. Relevance
  2. Quality Links from Other Websites (Relevant Backlinks)
  3. Dwell Time (Watch Time)
  4. Click Through Rate (CTR)
  5. Website Authority (Domain Authority)
  6. Optimized Website Content (On-Page SEO + Structure)
  7. Website Load Time (Page Speed)
  8. SSL or TLS Encryption (HTTPS vs HTTP)
  9. Mobile Compatibility (Responsive Design for Devices)
  10. Domain Age 

Many people like to put “User Experience” (UX) on this list. To me, that’s just too broad. It covers too much ground. Literally half of the items on this list fall under User Experience. So if you want to put that on a list, you need to include all of the details that are involved… which is a lot.

Although there are hundreds of them, it would be a better use of your time to understand and focus on the most important Google ranking factors. We will discuss them in detail right now.

1. Relevance

Some people will disagree with me, but search engines are definitely going in the direction of Relevance. Not just in terms of content, but in all aspects that relevance can be applied.

For example, your website and content should be relevant to what users are searching for on Google. Your content should be structured in a way that keeps more relevant content together. Your inbound links should be coming from websites that are relevant to your content that they link to. People should also be looking at or reading your content when they find it.

The Purpose of a Search Engine

Right now, I want you to really consider the purpose of a search engine. What is a search engine for?

The purpose of a search engine is to help its users find what they are looking for. Your content needs to be helpful. It can be an answer to a question. It can be a solution to a problem.

Whatever it is the users are searching for… Your content needs to be relevant. If it’s not, users will never find it.

Google is constantly trying to find ways to get rid of junk that won’t help people. Irrelevant pages and websites are disappearing from Google’s search results all the time now.

Keep that in mind. Keep your website and content relevant to what users are looking for and relevant to the topics of your website.

For example, don’t put a random chicken stew recipe on your website that is all about classic cars.

How to Approach Relevance

When you start a website, you have to have content. I cannot count how many times I’ve worked with someone (a client or otherwise) that starts a website and never writes any content, plans any images… nothing. They don’t have anything to put on their website.

You should strategically plan your content. I like to use a method called search analysis. This is where you find common search phrases people use in the topic of interest. Then you analyze them to see how much competition there is for those key search phrases.

It’s best to start with what we call “Long Tail Keyphrases”. These are search terms that are 5 or more words long.

Let’s use the “chicken stew recipe” example. There are a lot of big websites that already do this. But you can find more long-tail key phrases to analyze that you might be able to rank for.

Let’s say you do your research and find that “Vietnamese chicken stew instant pot recipe” is a search term that Google has trouble finding a full first page of results for. You search for this and Google finds recipes that aren’t “Vietnamese” or “instant pot” at all.

You just found a gap in the market. This is where you start. This is a gap you can fill with your to make your content relevant and useful.

Organize Relevant Content Together

If your website covers a pretty broad topic, and you have a lot of smaller, niche categories, it’s a good idea to keep your content structured and organized together.

For instance, inside of a blog post, stay on topic. If your blog post is “How to Rank on Google”, don’t start talking about how to cook chicken or fix your car. Everything you talk about in your blog post should be well organized and stay relevant to the topic of the article.

Then, you have to build proper links within your website. In your recipe, you can link to another recipe of a similar type. However, you may want to keep your chicken recipes linked, organized, and categorized together, then have your dessert recipes linked and organized separately to each other.

To do all of this properly, it really takes quite a bit of planning before you start. You shouldn’t just jump into content creation without some sort of plan.

Consider these questions:

  • What are your topics?
  • How should you organize your categories?
  • Which types of content should you have?
  • Do you need multimedia such as video?
  • How should your URLs be structured?

Relevance is by far the most important Google ranking factor. So stay relevant in every way you can.

2. Quality Links from Other Websites (Relevant Backlinks)

Some of you might notice that I didn’t just put “Backlinks” in this subheading. That’s because backlinks alone aren’t one of the most important Google ranking factors.

In reality, high quality links that are relevant to your content are incredibly important. You see, a link to your website is like a recommendation. Well, it IS a recommendation.

This part is important… So pay attention.

Do you remember when you were a kid and everyone told you to be careful who your friends are? You don’t want a bad reputation, right?

Links are the same way. If you have a bunch of links from small and sketchy websites, Google will consider your website small and sketchy.

If you have several links from high quality authority websites, Google will consider your website high quality and increase your authority.

You see how that works?

There’s both good and bad backlinks. Good backlinks will help promote your website and increase your credibility. Bad backlinks will decrease your credibility and reputation in the eyes of Google.

The bottom line is, you shouldn’t just build backlinks anywhere you can get them.

One of the Most Difficult Ranking Factors

Many people that are new to the world of online business initially struggle with the entire concept of the backlink, what a backlink is for, and sometimes what the term even means.

When a person finally understands backlinks, they find that this is the most difficult ranking factor to deal with. Then, they struggle with building backlinks. It can be frustrating. Even for experienced internet marketers.

How to Get Quality Backlinks from Quality Websites

To get quality backlinks, first you have to have quality content. There’s a term we use in the industry called “Linkable Content”. It means that you have high quality content that people will want to link to. We will get to that in a minute.

First, let’s talk about the best way to have quality content.

The best way to create quality content is to find your top competitors for that content. Then, make your content better than theirs. It’s really that simple.

Actually, although it sounds simple, it can be very time consuming. However, if you really want to compete in this game, you have to start by being better than the competition when it comes to your content.

So, let’s say you have a better, more organized, high quality article or piece of content now. It’s better than all of the top ranked competition on the exact same topic. Is that enough?

No! It’s not. We have to do more now.

Turn Your Content Into Linkable Content

Now we have to ensure that our content is “Linkable Content” as we discussed above. The best way to have linkable content is to do the following:

  • Use statistics in your content.
  • Create detailed infographics to embed in your content.
  • Write tutorials with detailed images.
  • Build resource guides that are easy to follow.
  • Create organized long-form content.

You can also research what your competitors are doing. Find out how they are making their content linkable. Then, again, make yours better.

A few other types of more complex linkable content (that require more development) include Podcasts, Videos, and Free Online Software Tools.

Honestly, there’s no limit to the amount of creative ways you can make your content more “Linkable”. If you come up with something good, run with it. If you find a gap in the market, fill it.

Promote Your Content

Even still, it can be really hard to kick start the process of getting links without promoting your content. One of the best ways to do that is to reach out to other people that have websites and basically ask them to link to you.

You can also promote your content on social media, run PPC ad campaigns, and write guest posts for other websites.

One of my favorite things to do is email professors that teach a topic that relates to one of my articles. I usually keep my email simple and polite. Essentially, I ask them to read it and give me their feedback if they have time.

Every now and then I get lucky and they reference my article on their faculty website as a source for something they’ve written, or as a resource for their students.

Let me just throw in there that links from .EDU domains are like gold. These links give you a lot of credibility.

3. Dwell Time (Watch Time)

Think about websites like Facebook and YouTube. When someone gets on one of these websites, do they usually leave after 30 seconds?

No, they don’t.

People sometimes stay on them for hours. Google knows this. Websites like these have a really high Dwell Time.

What is Dwell Time?

Although the technical definition might be complex or abstract, we will put it in simple terms. We will define Dwell Time as the amount of time people spend on your content.

If someone finds your search result, clicks on it, looks at it for 30 seconds, then leaves… this is considered low. You want to try to keep people on your content for as long as you can.

How to Increase Dwell Time

If you have a normal website, an average Dwell Time of over 3 minutes is usually pretty good.

The best way to increase your Dwell Time is to, again, have really good content that’s relevant to what users are searching for.

Embedding Video Content on Website

However, there are a few tricks you can use to help increase your Dwell Time a little more.

For example, you can embed a video that covers the same topic as your written content at the top of the page.

If people watch the video embedded on your page, people are staying on your content increasing your Dwell Time. If the video is uploaded to YouTube, it also increases that video’s Watch Time.

That’s kind of a two birds with one stone approach.

It’s a great trick and it works. Videos are almost like steroids for your content.

A Good User Experience Keeps Users Around Longer

The bottom line is really to have a great User Experience (UX) for the person that comes to your website. Since Google is focusing a lot of ranking factors on UX, it’s good to have anyway.

Furthermore, it makes sense that a good User Experience will keep users on your website for longer.

A Short List of Tricks to Increase Dwell Time

Here’s a short list of tricks you can do to increase your Dwell Time:

  • Embed videos on your pages when relevant.
  • Write your content in a way that’s easy to read.
  • Keep your reader interested in your content.
  • Use Calls to Action that lead to other parts of your page or website
  • Create a table of contents for your content.
  • Have a fun interactive experience on your page (i.e. Quizzes are popular)
  • Design a free download of some kind.
  • Use infographics that are fun and interesting.

Dwell Time is a Proven, Very Important Google Ranking Factor

Dwell Time is an extremely important ranking factor for any website. I know that there are people that will disagree with me. However, if you have a Dwell Time of near zero, you will not rank well with Google.

Why would someone disagree with me about that?

Well, because there’s a lot of controversy around it. Some people don’t let Google track user sessions on their website with analytics and still rank. Basically, there’s not “absolute proof” that Google uses it…

But they do!

Google tracks session duration in your analytics, IF you use analytics. However, Google also owns YouTube, and Watch Time is one of the main, confirmed ranking factors for YouTube. It’s even in YouTube Analytics. You can see exactly where, in your videos, that users fall off and stop watching.

Every Platform Uses Some Variation of Dwell Time

Additionally, every other platform uses it. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest… all of them use some variation of Dwell Time to rank content. The longer uses look at your content, the more the platforms know to rank your content higher.

It literally proves that users like your content. They’re looking at it for long periods of time.

Dwell Time is going to be a huge ranking factor on all platforms going forward. So keep that in mind when creating your content.

4. Click Through Rate (CTR)

Click through rate is a fairly simple concept that has been used by marketers and advertisers for a long time. It’s a metric that’s used to measure how many people actually click on something they see. This metric is then used to improve the amount of clicks something gets.

What is Click Through Rate in Terms of Ranking on Google?

When your Google search result appears, that is called an “Impression”. This is when you appear visible to a user in a search result.

If the user clicks on your impression, your CTR goes up. If the user does NOT click on your impression, your CTR goes down.

If users click on your impression 5% of the time, that’s actually considered pretty good. That means 1 out of 20 times someone sees your page in the search results, they click on it. This would be a CTR of 5%.

How to Increase Click Through Rate (CTR)

There are a few different ways to get people to click on your content. In fact, this has been studied in the world of online magazines and email marketing for decades now.

Relevance in Article Titles and Meta Descriptions

First of all, make sure your article title and meta description is relevant to what the users are searching for. This is incredibly important.

If someone asks a question, make sure your article title asks the question, implies you have the answer to that question, or actually is the answer for that question.

Use Headline Psychology for Article Titles

Headline psychology is a massive topic. You could spend hours, days, or even weeks learning about headline psychology.

Therefore, we are going to just touch on it briefly and summarize some of the tactics you can use to get people interested in your article.

Newspapers, magazines, and websites have really spent a lot of time developing their headline psychology strategies.

So, what is headline psychology?

Headline psychology is a method of writing headlines (or article titles) that make people feel the need to click on your content… or open a magazine… or unmute the TV.

There are a number of different methods. There’s negatives, mystery, controversy, suggestibility, and so much more. Again it’s a massive topic.

Let’s look at an example.

Which article title seems more appealing to the brain? Look below:

“Tips for New YouTubers”

OR

“7 Dark Secrets that Successful YouTubers Don’t Tell You”

Do you see that? We used mystery, curiosity, referenced the user, and put a number on it.

Look at one more example.

“New Shows on Netflix This Month”

OR

“Top 10 Must-See Netflix Shows You Can Watch Right Now”

Do you see the difference here? Using numbers, suggestibility, referencing the user, and call to action. There’s a couple of other things in there as well, but I’m trying to convey a lot of information in a very short amount of time here.

5. Website Authority (Domain Authority)

When your website becomes more of an authority in a specific topic, Google definitely takes notice.

Then, Google will begin to rank newer content from your website in that specific topic easier than before.

What is Website Authority or Domain Authority?

Website authority is one of the more long-term Google ranking factors. The higher your website authority is, the easier it is to rank pages on your website. Nobody knows exactly how Google measures this.

However, there are a few other companies out there that have their own algorithms to help measure this metric. Essentially, they are estimating Google’s website authority algorithm, by developing their own.

Moz is a company that measures Domain Authority, or DA, for websites. They also have page authority, or PA. In the Moz algorithm, DA depends mostly on your backlink profile and your content.

Moz looks at backlinks, quality of links, trust of the linking website, and relevance of content is surrounding those links

Moz looks at backlinks from other websites, what the quality of those links are, how trusted the websites are that link to your pages, and how relevant the content is surrounding those links.

Keep in mind that high quality, optimized, relevant, and helpful content is always good for website authority.

How to Increase Your Website Authority

Since your website authority is based mostly on your content and backlinks, it’s a good idea to focus on those. We talked extensively about both of those earlier in this article.

After that, it’s all about consistency. Keep posting. Keep getting good backlinks. Over time, you should build a website full of high quality, relevant content that’s trustworthy and useful.

Furthermore, you can also research and analyze your competition to see what authoritative strategies they are using. Use that information to improve your strategies for building website authority.

6. Optimized Website Content (On-Page SEO + Structure)

You can have quality content, but if it’s not optimized properly for the web, it won’t rank as well as your competition. You will need to focus heavily on optimizing your website content.

So, this topic is huge… massive. There are entire online courses that discuss all of the different ways to do this. Here’s a short list of factors involving optimized website content on on-page SEO:

  • Include your search phrase in your article title.
  • Use your search phrase in the URL slug.
  • Embed an image with your search phrase included in the image name.
  • Include alt text that is relevant to your topic on your images.
  • Use an H1 tag for your title heading.
  • Properly structure subheadings using H2, H3, and H4 tags.
  • Keep your keyword density for your keyphrase between 1-2%.
  • Consider keyword intent and phrase semantics in your content.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing in your content.
  • Keep your images compressed and properly sized.
  • Lazy load images to increase page speed and user experience.
  • Optimize your page speed load time.

Like I said, this is a massive topic that needs to become second nature to you. Especially if you are planning on building and ranking a website. This isn’t a complete list. However, it should be enough to get you started.

Learn to Master these, as well as everything else in this article with my Online Course.

Online Course: Start an Online Business in 12 Weeks

7. Website Load Time (Page Speed)

Website Load Time - GTMetrix
Website Load Time of my Home Page on GTMetrix (765ms)

Even if you go through all the technical steps to increase your page speed, your website load time will still be slow if you have BAD WEB HOSTING.

Poor web hosting can ruin your website ranking. Then you work really hard to make your website faster, just to finally figure out that your web hosting is horrible. Yes… this has happened to me and other people I work with more times that I can count.

With that said, there are only two (2) web hosts I still use or recommend. Here they are:

LOOK: A2 Hosting for Shared Hosting (Cheaper but Still Fast)

LOOK: Cloudways for Cloud Hosting (Faster / More Powerful)

Seriously. At the time I wrote this article, these are the only two I will use or recommend to others. Depending on what you need, you should pick one or the other.

Is your current web host slow? Well if you switch to either of these two…

They will MOVE YOUR WEBSITE FOR YOU! For FREE.

They have free website migrations. I’m telling you, these are the best web hosts in the business.

Need a simple, basic one-off blog or website? Use the shared hosting.

Have a large project or development (like an eLearning platform)? Use the cloud hosting.

Several Reasons that Page Speed is Important

Website load time, or page speed, is an incredibly important ranking factor for several reasons. First of all, the User Experience (UX). Google is becoming more and more focused on user experience as time goes on. A slow website is a poor user experience. Therefore, a poor user experience means that Google won’t want to rank you.

Second, research shows that if your page takes more than 3 seconds to load, over 50% of your traffic will leave before the page finishes loading.

Think of it this way.

That means you will lose half of your traffic (potential customers… audience… leads… whatever you want to call them) before they even get to your content.

That’s insane!

You don’t want to lose half your potential customers before they even get there. Remember, you still have to convince them to become a conversion after they get there.

Third, if you’re losing all of this traffic and having a poor user experience, this is going to destroy your Dwell Time and increase your “Bounce” rate.

Literally, this is hurting your other Google ranking factors now. Isn’t it?

Listen. This is so important.

How fast your website loads is absolutely critical to the success of your ranking. Now more than ever.

Go to this website and test your page speed: https://gtmetrix.com

If your page load speed is over 3 seconds, you are going to struggle. More than 5 seconds is really bad. If your page load speed is more than 6 seconds, that’s pretty much unrankable.

The best thing you can do is start with a really good web host like I mentioned above.

How to Optimize Your Website Load Time

After, and only after, you get yourself a proper web host that’s fast, you can then proceed to optimize your page speed.

I want you to know that I built a website on Cloudways. I had a full landing page full of images that had 82 requests. Without any optimization or caching, I was already getting a page load time of 1.2 seconds.

I turned on my caching plugin, then it was 982 milliseconds. That’s under 1 second for a massive page full of requests.

That’s before I did ANY other page speed optimization.

Now, here is a short list of page speed optimizations to consider:

  • Be sure you have file compression (like Gzip) enabled.
  • Minify your JavaScript and CSS.
  • Defer JavaScript to avoid render blocking.
  • Use a solid caching plugin.
  • Ensure you have a good server response time (again, good web host).
  • Optimize your image compression and pixel size.
  • Minimize redirects as much as possible.
  • Get yourself a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
  • Get rid of unnecessary requests, plugins, files, etc…

Although saving a few milliseconds here and there might seem trivial, it’s not.

Right now, some of the top experts consider page speed to be the #1 most important Google ranking factor.

These milliseconds can really add up to make your page speed faster, your user experience better, and rank your content higher.

Now, go perform some speed tests and improve your load time.

8. SSL or TLS Encryption (HTTPS vs HTTP)

SSL Encryption should be among the easiest of all the most important Google ranking factors to take care of. That is, if you have a good web host.

Your web hosting company should offer free SSL certificates for your website that automatically renew when they expire. However, I cannot believe how many web hosts DO NOT provide this to their customers.

The two web hosting companies I mentioned above provide free SSL certificates to all of their customers. So, if you switch to them, they will migrate your website to their hosting for free, and you will have this entire ranking factor taken care of. Done.

Why is SSL Encryption Important?

In 2014, Google released a statement recommending that all websites switch from HTTP to HTTPS. This was for security purposes to protect end users.

In basic terms, SSL Encryption is to help make your website more secure for your users. It helps protect user privacy and information. Furthermore, SSL helps prevent cyber criminals from using your website for malicious purposes.

Search for something on Google. It can be anything. If you look at all of the top search results, you will see the URLs all begin with https://. This is because those websites use SSL encryption.

Sceenshot of search results showing HTTPS at beginning of URLs
Sceenshot of search results showing HTTPS at beginning of URLs

Also, if your website doesn’t have SSL Encryption, the web browser will tell your users that your website is “Not Secure”. You don’t want web browsers telling your users that.

Example of no SSL Encryption and web browser showing that the website is "Not secure"
Example of no SSL Encryption and web browser showing that the website is "Not secure"

9. Mobile Compatibility (Responsive Design for Devices)

These days, over 50% of web traffic is on mobile devices.

Remember, Google really likes to focus on user experience when it comes to ranking. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you aren’t providing a good user experience for over 50% of users on the web.

Essentially, if your website isn’t mobile compatible, your website won’t rank on Google.

Google is beginning to push this even further. If your website doesn’t meet modern standards, why would they rank you at all?

Many of these ranking factors keep going back to User Experience. So, keep that in mind when developing your website.

How to Make Your Website Mobile Compatible

All of the top websites on the web are mobile compatible. For a good user experience, yours should be too.

In the beginning of mobile browsers, this used to be difficult as you would have to develop a separate version of your website just for mobile devices.

Not anymore. Now mobile compatibility is easy to achieve by using responsive design.

The best way to have a mobile friendly website is by using a mobile responsive theme or template.

For example, if you are developing your website on WordPress, you can use the Divi theme and page builder to develop your website.

Divi makes building your website incredibly easy and is automatically mobile responsive for compatibility.

WordPress Themes and Builders

I only use two WordPress theme setups now. Depending on what I’m doing. I use:

  1. Divi Theme with Divi Builder (Easier to Use)
  2. Astra Pro Theme with Elementor Pro Builder (Faster Load and More Powerful)

For example, if I’m doing a quick website that’s fairly basic, and there will be other people (like a client) that will be developing on it or performing updates… I use Divi.

If I’m building a website for myself only, or working on a more difficult project, I use Astra Pro (Theme) with Elementor Pro (Builder).

It may sound complicated, but it’s incredibly important to choose a good theme for your WordPress website. If you’re new to building websites, just start with Divi from Elegant Themes.

10. Domain Age

Finally, the most difficult of the top Google ranking factors is domain age.

Why? Because you don’t really have that much control over it.

It makes sense that Google should be skeptical of new websites. It’s literally like Google almost penalizes you for the first 6-12 months. You are going to have to earn Google’s trust and prove that you are worthy of ranking.

Make Domain Age Less of a Ranking Factor

Even after 12 months, it can be hard to compete with websites that have been around for 15 years. However, if you have good content and pay attention to this article as you build your website, you can earn Google’s trust.

You can tell when that happens because Google will start testing out ranking some of your content. Honestly, if you do this the right way, you can see some significant traffic and ranking after 12 months.

If you pay attention to all of the other most important Google ranking factors, Google will care more about fresh, quality, relevant content and user experience over how old your website is. You really have to prove yourself though.

Stay consistent. So many people start the process, then stop for a few months. Initially, hit Google hard with lots of regular, amazing content.

When you first launch, stay consistent by posting useful content, publishing regularly, and staying relevant in your topics. Google can take a website very seriously in just 6 months if you use all of the best practices we’ve discussed.

Notably, I want to point out that there have been several occasions where I’ve successfully ranked important content to the top of page 1 on Google, on a new website in as little as 6 weeks.

Video Summary: Top 10 Google Ranking Factors

Final Thoughts: Top 10 Most Important Google Ranking Factors

Although it can be helpful to be aware of the top 10 most important Google ranking factors, sometimes I feel you just need to try hard, be yourself, and focus on your content.

Yes… It can be important to focus on the details and know how to optimize your website. But there’s a middle ground.

If you read back through these, you will find that Google, as well as other platforms, want you to focus on quality content, user experience, and be relevant to your audience.

There are many technical steps to achieve this along the way. Yet, again, there is a middle ground between focusing on producing content, and performing optimization to satisfy the ranking factors. You have to spend time on both.

Remember, there are three (3) Google ranking factors here that are fairly easy to control and get a handle on early.

  1. Website Load Time (Page Speed)
  2. SSL or TLS Encryption (HTTPS vs HTTP)
  3. Mobile Compatibility (Responsive Design for Devices)

These can be almost entirely taken care of from the beginning, with proper hosting and the right WordPress theme. Don’t start off on the wrong foot. Start with these if you haven’t already.

Have any questions or suggestions? Please leave me a comment below! Thanks for reading! Good luck on ranking your content.

Infographic: Top 10 Google Ranking Factors

Google Ranking Factors: Top 10 Most Important (Infographic)
Google Ranking Factors: Top 10 Most Important (Infographic)
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