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The Most Important 3 Factors for Achieving High Google Rankings

Begin by gaining a deep understanding of Google’s motivations and operational principles. This knowledge will empower you to tailor your content and SEO strategy for improved rankings.

If only SEO could be as straightforward as having a definitive list of the ranking factors Google utilizes in its algorithm.

If only SEO were as uncomplicated as Google using a single algorithm.

If only every niche and location were assessed using identical criteria

The era of simplistic search engines, where tactics like keyword stuffing and link quantity directly influenced rankings, is a thing of the past. Not to mention, back then, there was only a single algorithm to contend with.

Over the last 25 years, SEO has become an increasingly complex and nuanced discipline.

Ranking factors vary based on the industry and specific keywords. YMYL rankings follow a distinct approach compared to the ranking of ecommerce transactional queries, and local search ranking is yet another distinct category.

In the realm of SEO, one certainty remains: the more you learn, the more you recognize the vast depths of knowledge yet to be explored.

While there isn’t an official Google ranking factors blueprint or checklist to adhere to, it is understood that there are specific factors or signals that Google deems significant for page ranking.

The “Google 200 Ranking Factors” Myth

Before we delve into discussing the essential factors and signals for ranking, it’s crucial to address the myth surrounding the supposed ‘200 ranking factors’ that Google is believed to utilize.

If you perform a Google search for ‘ranking factors,’ you’ll come across numerous titles in the search engine results pages (SERP) referencing the ‘200 ranking factors’ from prominent blogs.

It is likely that the figure ‘200’ was initially introduced as a public relations effort by Google to highlight the complexity of its algorithm, emphasizing its multifaceted nature, and this concept stuck. The sole documented mention of ‘200’ comes from a speech delivered by Matt Cutts at PubCon in 2009.

As mentioned earlier, Google’s approach to ranking has evolved significantly over the past 25 years, to the extent that there are now hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of factors and machine learning components in play

What Yandex Disclosed Regarding Ranking Factors

In the January 2023 Yandex ranking factors leak, it was unveiled that Yandex employs approximately 690 ranking factors, with some flexibility in the count.

This revelation shed light on how a major search engine employs various factors and signals to determine rankings. In a direct conversation, Dan Taylor, a specialist in Russian search engines, pointed out that both Yandex and Google share several similarities in their approaches to website indexing and ranking. He noted, ‘They both rely on similar data points, including on-page content, links, meta-data, mobile-friendliness, and user interactions like SERP clicks and user behavior.’

Furthermore, he added, ‘Both search engines also incorporate AI into their ranking systems, such as Vega. However, they diverge in how they assign weight to specific signals, such as backlinks and user engagement with SERP results. Some of these signals are more susceptible to manipulation in comparison to Google.

In theory, Taylor believes that it is possible to optimize web pages in a manner that caters to both search engines, Yandex and Google, without compromising their performance. This implies that the information from the Yandex leak may provide valuable insights into improving rankings on Google as well.

Elements, Mechanisms, and Indicators

Whenever Google’s documentation is revised or notable figures like Gary Illyes, John Mueller, or Danny Sullivan make statements, the SEO community becomes fixated on deciphering their implications.

This tendency poses a challenge for both Google and the SEO industry as a whole, as SEO experts frequently delve excessively into trivial details, losing sight of the true priorities. Few aspects receive as much scrutiny as ranking factors.

SEO experts are increasingly fixating on the semantic distinctions among factors, systems, and signals.

When the documentation was updated to remove page experience from the Systems section, Google felt compelled to issue a statement via Twitter: ‘Ranking systems are distinct from ranking signals (systems typically utilize signals). We had some elements listed on that page related to page experience as “systems” that were actually signals. They should not have been included on the systems page. Removing them did not indicate that we no longer consider aspects of page experience. It simply meant that these were not ranking systems but rather signals utilized by other systems.

As it appears, page experience continues to influence rankings (as shown below).

When delving into the finer details, Google maintains two official pages related to ranking factors:

An Overview of Google Search Ranking Mechanisms

“Google employs automated ranking systems that assess numerous factors and signals across hundreds of billions of web pages and other content in our Search index. These systems swiftly deliver the most relevant and helpful results in a matter of seconds.”

How Search Functions:

“In order to provide you with the best information, Search algorithms examine various factors and signals, such as your query’s words, the relevance and user-friendliness of pages, the expertise of sources, and your location and preferences. The importance of each factor can differ based on the type of query you have.”

Gary Illyes discussed the distinctions between factors, signals, and systems during an Ask Me Anything session at PubCon in September 2023, where he remarked, ‘The primary distinction is essentially just a matter of terminology.’

The simplest way to differentiate between a system and a signal is to think of Google’s ranking systems as the machine learning layers used to enhance search results. Ranking signals impact these systems and the overall ranking process.

In a direct message, SEO expert Shinoy Rajendraprasad clarified this by stating, ‘Not all elements classified as signals are incorporated into every system. Many factors that Google categorizes as signals may not be relevant to a specific query or may carry different weight compared to another query. For instance, even Google’s most renowned signal, PageRank, has no role in Local Search at all.’

The Google ‘How Search Works’ page discusses the ‘essential elements that contribute to selecting the results for your query.’

On this page, the core factors are outlined as follows:

  • Importance.
  • Relevance.
  • Quality.
  • Ease of use.
  • Context.

If you grasp the basic principles that guide Google’s actions, getting caught up in semantic details becomes less significant. Following a common-sense approach with the ultimate aim of delivering the best experience for the end user is a more efficient and sustainable strategy.

In essence, Google’s primary motivation is to offer top-notch search results to maintain its position as a market leader. It’s a business. Once you grasp this, you’ve grasped the fundamental idea behind SEO.

With that in mind, here are the essential ranking factors that need to be taken into account for better SERP visibility.

The Three Essential Ranking Factors SEO Professionals Must Prioritize

1. Exceptional Content

The initial step in ranking involves comprehending the user’s search query.

The subsequent step is to align the query with the content found on a webpage.

In line with Google’s ‘How Search Works‘ statement: ‘Our systems scrutinize the content to determine if it holds information that could be pertinent to your search.’

Provided that your website is technically capable of being crawled and rendered, high-quality content remains the foremost ranking factor.

Content holds a pivotal role, not only in rankings but also in enhancing user experience and driving conversions.

Gary Illyes of Google encapsulates this by stating: ‘Without content, ranking is simply impossible. If there are no words on the page, ranking won’t happen. The top 2 or 3 ranking factors can vary for each site.’

The internet itself comprises pages filled with content.

But what qualifies as high-quality content? In brief, it can be best described as content that aligns with E-A-T signals and exhibits:

  • Experience.
  • Knowledge.
  • Authority.
  • Trustworthiness.

For more information about E-A-T, please continue reading below.

A crucial element of content revolves around the keywords and phrases used on the page. There’s ongoing debate about whether keywords have become obsolete and no longer play a role in rankings. However, at its core, keywords still hold significance.

As Google states, ‘The most fundamental indication of content’s relevance is when it includes the same keywords as your search query. For instance, when those keywords appear on the page, in the headings, or within the body of the text, the content may be deemed more relevant.’

To attain a ranking, a webpage must clearly convey its subject matter to eliminate any ambiguity.

Pedro Dias, a former Google employee, clarified in a direct discussion: “It’s not that traditional ranking factors like keywords have become outdated; they remain the bedrock upon which we build. Ensuring that these fundamentals are applied and executed effectively is just as crucial as ever.”

Pedro continued: “Google has incorporated machine learning on top of these foundational elements to deliver results that consider more nuanced intentions behind queries.”

Google’s ongoing goal is to consistently present the most relevant results, which is why machine learning systems have been integrated to better interpret natural language queries. Google can discern the distinction between “cheat” as a dishonest person and “cheat” as a method for manipulating a system (such as a cheat code). Pedro highlighted an example that Gary Illyes once used to illustrate this.

Discussing content and keywords inevitably leads to the topic of entities, which Google employs to enhance its comprehension of subjects. This article provides a comprehensive exploration of the significance of grasping entities in SEO.

Ammon Johns further elucidates this by stating: “Search engines have placed increased importance on semantic search and entities. For a basic illustration, when you search for ‘History of Munchen,’ not only will Google recognize the misspelling of ‘MÜNCHEN,’ but it’s highly likely to present results primarily featuring the more common ‘Munich’ keyword in the titles and snippets.

The systems that exert the greatest influence on the ranking of content include:

Useful Content System

Introduced in 2022, Google’s user-centric content system prioritizes delivering top-quality content to users.

Google’s primary goal is to have content reflect real-world expertise, ultimately enhancing the reader’s experience by emphasizing ‘more content created by people, for people.’

The system undergoes frequent updates, and as of 2023, we’ve seen several iterations of improvements.

Google affirms, ‘The helpful content system is designed to favor content that leaves visitors with a gratifying experience, while content that falls short of visitor expectations may not perform as effectively.

Some of the criteria for valuable content, all rooted in E-A-T principles, encompass:

  • Don’t stray from your main topic.
  • Demonstrate first-hand experience.
  • Don’t combine multiple topics on one site.


Introduced in 2015, RankBrain is a machine learning system by Google that connects words to concepts, aiding Google in comprehending the intent behind a search query.

This plays a pivotal role in refining rankings, as Google strives to deliver the most relevant results for each query. RankBrain also enables Google to provide results for queries with no prior search history.

Before RankBrain, Google struggled with synonyms and returned literal interpretations of words. According to Google: ‘…before advanced AI, our systems primarily relied on exact word matches. For instance, when you searched for ‘pziza,’ unless there was a page with that precise misspelling, you would likely need to search again with the correct spelling to find a nearby pizza place… Now, with advanced machine learning, our systems can more intuitively identify when a word seems incorrect and suggest a possible correction.


In 2018, BERT made a big impact on the SEO field as a major Google update that was estimated to affect approximately 10% of search queries back then.

The BERT system comprehends how word combinations, including stop words, can convey various meanings, making even so-called stop words significant in search when they play a role in query understanding.

According to Google: ‘BERT marked a significant advancement in natural language comprehension, enabling us to grasp how word combinations convey diverse meanings and intentions.

Multitask Unified Model (MUM)

In 2021, during Google IO, MUM was introduced as a system aimed at advancing search capabilities by being multimodal, meaning it can process information from text, images, and potentially video.

MUM isn’t currently employed as a ranking system across all categories. Google stated: ‘While we’re still in the initial stages of exploring MUM’s potential, we’ve already utilized it to enhance searches related to COVID-19 vaccine information.’

It seems that its primary application will revolve around searches that involve text and images, particularly within Google Lens.

Google explains: ‘As we incorporate more MUM-powered features into Search, we’ll transition from advanced language understanding to a more nuanced comprehension of world information… MUM is proficient in both understanding and generating language.’

Content Freshness

In 2010, Google introduced Caffeine, a departure from the traditional method of refreshing the entire index every few weeks. Caffeine’s purpose, as stated by Google, was to ‘analyze the web in smaller segments and continually update our search index on a global scale.’

With the internet expanding rapidly, Google took a step further in 2011 by building upon Caffeine and unveiling ‘Freshness.’ They announced, ‘Today, we’re making a significant enhancement to our ranking algorithm that affects approximately 35 percent of searches. This change better determines when to provide more up-to-date, relevant results for varying levels of freshness.’

Content freshness is not universally applied to all searches. Its significance varies based on the query and is particularly crucial for specific niches and queries, such as breaking news, weather updates, or stock prices.

Most content experiences some degree of deterioration in search results over time if it remains unaltered. Ideas, concepts, products, and information are continually evolving, in line with shifting user expectations.

Personalization & Locality

While content quality isn’t the primary concern, it’s worth noting that in addition to other ranking factors, personalization plays a significant role. This personalization takes into account a user’s search history and their location.

For instance, queries like ‘best coffee shop’ are location-specific and yield results based on the user’s current location, often showing a map of nearby options. Some product queries prioritize local suppliers based on user location.

Search results can vary across devices, and understanding a user’s intent at a specific stage of their journey influences the results displayed in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

As an example, a search for ‘London Zoo’ on desktop emphasizes research with video and image carousels, while the mobile SERP focuses on tickets, directions, and location.

In the words of John Mueller: ‘When searching on your phone, you may seek more local information because you’re on the move. In contrast, desktop searches might prioritize displaying images or videos in the search results.’

When conducting keyword research and creating content, it’s essential to consider how personalization and local factors can affect rankings and incorporate these considerations into your strategy.

E-A-T Isn’t a Direct Ranking Factor, But It Carries Significance

Once again, while not a direct ranking system, the principles of Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) hold immense significance in the realm of SEO, demanding the attention of all content creators.

Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines were once a well-kept secret but are now publicly available, offering insights into what Google’s Quality Raters seek when manually evaluating websites.

E-E-A-T is integrated into Google’s Quality Search Raters Guidelines and serves as a guiding principle, although not a direct ranking factor.

E-E-A-T comprises a series of refining signals that align with Google’s mission to enhance user experiences and combat misinformation. This concept holds relevance across all niches, especially in YMYL fields such as finance and health, where search results can significantly impact users’ lives.

As mentioned earlier, high-quality content is a pivotal ranking factor, and there is no better roadmap for achieving this than following the E-E-A-T guidelines. Establishing a credible reputation as an expert in a particular domain aligns with Google’s objectives and contributes to a positive user experience.

2. User Experience on Page

The removal of Page Experience from Google’s ranking systems page stirred discussion in the community. The Search Liaison team clarified, stating: ‘…As our guidance on page experience states in the opening sentence: ‘Google’s core ranking systems aim to promote content that offers a positive page experience.’

Page Experience was introduced in 2021. Prior to this, Core Web Vitals (CWVs) had been emphasized as a significant ranking factor.

CWVs later became part of a larger group of ‘signals’ that constitute page experience – still essentially a ranking factor, but now part of a cluster of factors referred to as ‘Page Experience.’

Understanding the importance of this change requires comprehending Google’s overall objectives.

Google strives to provide a satisfying user experience. It reflects poorly on its product when it serves pages that load slowly, display poorly on certain devices, or are hindered by large obstructive ads.

Google emphasizes: ‘Google’s core ranking systems aim to reward content that delivers a positive page experience.’

Page Experience centers on four primary signals:

  • HTTPS.
  • Page Loading Speed.
  • Mobile Compatibility.
  • Core Web Vitals.

Page experience holds significance, though it may not always be the utmost critical factor. It comes into play more prominently when there’s competition between two pages for a ranking position.

As explained by John Mueller: ‘If the content across search results pages is very similar, Page Experience probably provides some assistance in distinguishing the faster and more user-friendly pages from the less suitable ones.’

Google’s aim is to provide the finest product available, and this aspect of SEO is often underestimated. By understanding Google’s motivation and aligning your strategy with it, you can achieve superior ranking results.

3. Links

Ranking in Google search and the links pointing to a website are closely related.

SEO experts have been using links to boost their website’s ranking for a long time. Google, on the other hand, has been fighting against spammy or low-quality links to provide better search results.

Recently, some SEO professionals have started to think that links may not be as crucial as they once were. In a 2022 survey by Marie Haynes, almost half of the SEO experts surveyed believed that link-building was less effective compared to a few years ago.

Back in the early days of Google, links were an essential part of how websites were ranked. They were like references for websites, similar to how academic papers cite other research. However, over time, some people abused this by creating low-quality or spammy links to manipulate their rankings.

It wasn’t until 2012, with the introduction of the Penguin update, that Google was able to crack down on these bad links. Since then, Google has been working to reduce the significance of links in its ranking system.

Back in 2016, a Google representative, Andrey Lipattsev, publicly acknowledged that links were a ranking factor during a Q&A session with Ammon Johns and others. He stated that the top 3 ranking signals were ‘Content, Links, RankBrain.’

However, fast forward to 2023, during an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session at PubCon, Gary Illyes expressed a different view. He mentioned that links are not among the ‘top 3’ ranking signals and haven’t held that position ‘for some time.’ He even went as far as saying, ‘there really isn’t a universal top 3.’ Illyes also emphasized that it’s entirely possible to achieve a high rank without relying on links.

It’s important to note that Google has reasons to downplay the significance of links, primarily to combat link spam. Google is unlikely to openly declare that links are a guaranteed ranking factor, considering how easily they can be manipulated. While it’s technically feasible to rank without links, in most cases, links do contribute to improved rankings.

In a private message exchange, Ammon commented on his 2016 video and Lipattsev’s response, stating: ‘When Andrey Lipattsev mentioned ‘Content, Links, and RankBrain,’ he was essentially highlighting the importance of on-page factors, off-page factors (like links), and how Google processes search queries. Regardless of what Gary Illyes has stated later, these three factors remain essential today.

Links play a crucial role in how Google discovers and navigates web pages, aside from the flow of PageRank.

Google primarily finds pages by crawling the web, following links from one page to another. Consequently, a page lacking inbound or internal links can face challenges in ranking because it remains undiscovered by Google’s link-based crawling and indexing process. To mitigate this, it’s essential to submit a sitemap to inform Google about the pages you want indexed.

Internal linking serves a dual purpose—it aids Google in crawling and indexing all interconnected pages on your site and facilitates the formation of topic clusters, a valuable SEO content strategy.

Not all links are created equal, and Google places a strong emphasis on the quality of each link, rather than their sheer quantity.

As mentioned by John Mueller: ‘The quantity of links may have held significance in the early days of PageRank, but today, Google prioritizes more informative metrics for assessing links.’

Links no longer carry the same weight as they did in the past when websites could rank with a large number of low-quality inbound links. Presently, the relevance and quality of links are paramount.

High-quality links still wield influence over rankings, a perspective shared by many SEO professionals.

In summary, internal and inbound links continue to be considered ranking factors.

Key Points on Google Ranking Factors

In summary, achieving a high ranking in search results is not as simple as following a fixed list of ranking factors. This complexity is what makes the SEO industry both exciting and challenging to work in.

While there isn’t a definitive set of Google ranking factors to adhere to, there are several key factors and signals that significantly impact your ranking. To succeed, it’s crucial to understand Google’s objectives and operational principles, allowing you to tailor your content and SEO strategy accordingly.

During the research for this article, insights were gathered from industry experts, including Pedro Dias (former Google employee), Ammon Johns (SEO Pioneer), and Dan Taylor (Russian search engine and technical SEO expert). We extend our appreciation to them for their valuable input and expertise.