Although there are hundreds of Google ranking factors (Google revealed that), being able to identify just a few of the most important ones is key.
There’s no need to focus on hundreds of elements when you can focus on just a dozen of them and still rank your content on the first page of Google.
Besides, can you really wrap your head around 200+ ranking factors every time you want to publish a new blog post?
I BET NOT…
That’s why I found it ideal to identify the most crucial Google rankings factors that you should be focusing on if you really want to save time, produce more quality content, and rank among the top results on Google.
Google Ranking Factors for 2021
Out of more than a hundred elements, these are the most important ranking factors Google uses to rank websites in 2021 (in more particular order).
Backlinks are arguably among the top 3 most important Google ranking factors. Backlinks act like a vote of confidence that your content is quality and that’s why other websites are linking to it.
The number quality backlinks form the basis of PageRank, which Google confirmed they still use it as one of their ranking factors back in 2017.
DYK that after 18 years we're still using PageRank (and 100s of other signals) in ranking?
— Gary 鯨理／경리 Illyes (@methode) February 9, 2017
But are all the backlinks equal?
Of course not.
Some of the most important backlink factors to consider include;
a). Number of Referring Domains
The more referring domains a web page gets, the stronger their backlink profile gets. This in turn leads to higher Google rankings. A page that’s linked to by more unique referring domains is likely to rank higher than one that gets more multiple links from just a few domains.
b). Number of Linking Pages
Although the number of linking pages is another Google ranking factor, it doesn’t offer the same value as backlinks from unique referring domains.
Take it this way;
A page on Website X gets 30 backlinks from 30 unique referring domains, and another page on Website Y gets 30 backlinks but from 10 referring domains (meaning it gets linked to more than once by the same referring domain).
If all are quality backlinks from equally strong referring domains, then the first page is likely to rank higher as it gets backlinks from more unique referring domains.
c). Domain and URL Rating of Linking Pages
Not all backlinks are of equal strength. Backlinks from websites with a high domain rating and coming from pages with a high URL rating will carry more weight compared to backlinks from websites with low domain and URL rating.
d). Link Relevance
Backlinks from pages with related content carry more weight than those from unrelated pages. The more relevant a backlink is, the more weight it carries.
Take it this way;
If a page about content marketing gets two backlinks, one from a post about content marketing strategies and another from a post about on-page SEO strategies, the first backlink is more relevant than the second one because it focuses on similar content.
e). Number of Dofollow Links
Google does not use nofollow links because the links contain a nofollow attribute. However, the more quality dofollow backlinks you get the stronger your backlink profile becomes. Dofollow links pass link juice from the referring page, which in turn boosts your page’s rating and your website’s authority.
f). Type of Links
Every link type carries a different weight. Getting contextual (within the content) dofollow backlink is more important than a dofollow link in the author bio section because it carries more weight or link juice.
g). Anchor Text Profile
Getting a dofollow backlink with the right anchor text help boost your page’s rankings. For example, if your post is about “content marketing strategies”, a backlink with a similar anchor text (content marketing strategies) will carry more weight than one that uses terms link “check here” or “read more”.
In a nutshell, backlinks matter, but the diversity of your backlink profile is what matters even more. Get more dofollow links from more unique high authority referring domains and with the right anchor texts to enjoy the best backlink benefits.
2. Domain Profile
Apart from backlink profile, your website’s domain profile is another important factor Google considers. The most important Google ranking factors related to your domain include;
a). Domain Age
Older domains tend to outrank new domains, that’s according to a study done on ways to improve Google rankings. A website with a great backlink profile that has been producing quality content for years will always rank higher than a brand new website.
b). Domain Authority
Domain authority is closely related to domain age in the sense that it takes years to scale your website’s authority to more than 70. The higher a website’s domain authority is, the more likely it is to rank higher than websites with low domain authority.
c). Domain History
If you’re not the first person to ever register the domain, it means your domain has some history. It will be hard to rank high if the domain had been penalized before by Google.
On the other hand, if the domain already had websites linking to it, then you will also enjoy some additional benefits. That’s why some people prefer to buy expired domains.
d). Domain Registration Length
Google considers domains that have a registration duration longer than a year to be more trustworthy. It’s ideal to register your domain for 3 years or more. That way, Google will give your site some priority over one that is set to expire in less than a year when ranking new content.
e). Domain Extension
While websites using .com, .net, and other top-level domain extensions are not much affected by this, a website that focuses on a specific country will enjoy better rankings by choosing country TLDs such as .co.uk, co.za, .co.pk, .co.au, etc.
For example, if your content is only crafted for an Australian audience, then using .co.au is better because Google will give your website a little preference over other websites, provided your website passes all the Google ranking tests.
3. Content Quality (Depth)
Content quality is probably the most important Google ranking factor. Google wants to provide its users with the best content available, and consistently producing quality content will give you an edge over your competitors.
Content quality differs from one niche to another because “quality” manifests itself differently in different niches or content types. Content about “email marketing” will probably focus on topics such as;
- what is email marketing
- email marketing strategies
- email marketing tools
- the future of email marketing
While content that reviews the “best luxury watches” will focus on key features such as;
- model or brand
- year made
Whichever content you focus on, ensure you highlight all the relevant topics your readers might be interested in. If it’s a product review, then be sure to highlight everything about the product, or else the readers will bounce back and choose to read a different review on another website.
Based on the niche, one content might need 3,000+ words to focus on the key topics users are interested in, while another might just need 1,500 words to highlight every single detail. In other words, content depth is key, but it differs between niches.
4. Content Freshness
Google crawlers get attracted to fresh content like a magnet. Some niches have fresh content on a daily basis while others take a couple of weeks or months to get fresh content.
For example, content about “Coronavirus Vaccine” is full of fresh content, with Google dedicating the top slot for Top Stories.
The search results on the first page are all from the previous 24 hours, with others less than an hour old.
Other niches, though, might not have that type of fresh content. If you’re in such a niche then the best thing to do is ensure you update your already existing content at least twice a year.
In other words, make sure your content is up to date. You should also set the display date to the date you updated your content (it shows up on Google).
If you created your content in the previous year and included the year in your meta title, then update your content, including the year in the title to indicate it’s still relevant today.
Adding year in your meta title increases organic CTR and traffic to your websites.
5. User Experience
Google’s primary goal is to serve the user with the best possible results. This includes websites that offer the best experience to its users. Google analyzes how users interact with the search results to determine which pages offer more value to users and which ones do not.
Google achieves this using an artificial intelligence tool called RankBrain, which analyses user-related elements such as;
- Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of users who click on a query result
- Dwell time: How long a user spends on a page after finding it through search
- Bounce rate: How quickly users leave a site they found via search
A web page with high CTR, high dwell time, and low bounce rate offers the best user experience, probably in multiple ways, including;
- Provides quality content that serves the users’ search intent
- Uses high-quality multimedia such as images, videos, screenshots, infographics, etc.
- Uses internal links to help users navigate through related pages or content
- Has an easy site structure to help users find other content easily (e.g. menus)
- Uses user-friendly fonts to enhanced readability
6. Mobile Friendliness
Mobile-friendliness refers to how a website performs or looks when viewed from a mobile device. Currently, about 65% of all searches on Google are performed on mobile devices.
In 2017, Google made it clear that websites in which content is not easily accessible to users on the transition from mobile search results will not rank high.
In 2019, Google moved to mobile-first indexing and made it a ranking factor for both mobile and desktop devices. That means you have no alternative but to make sure your website is mobile-friendly or else you will lose organic traffic as a result of reduced or poor rankings.
7. Site Crawlability
Ensuring your site can be crawled by Google crawlers allows Google to scan your website and understand what each web page is about.
This will also enable Google to add your website content to its index archive and serve it to users whenever they enter a related search query.
Submit your sitemap through Google Search Console and use robots.txt to tell search engines which pages they should index and which ones to ignore.
8. Site Security (HTTPS)
Although any website can be indexed by Google (provided the site doesn’t have a whole site noindex tag) including both the secure and non-secure websites, Google disclosed back in 2014 that they use website security as one of its ranking factors.
Google nowadays serves you a warning every time you try to access a site without HTTPS, giving you an option to continue or go back.
Ensure your website has an SSL certificate. It encrypts data by providing a secure connection between a browser and a server.
9. Page Speed
Back in 2010, website speed was revealed as one of the most important Google ranking factors for desktop searches. Eight years later, in 2018, Google extended the use of page speed as a ranking signal for mobile searches.
According to Google, websites that load slowly have a poor user experience. Their goal, however, is to ensure users get the best experience whenever they click on each of the results they show.
As a result, they now give priority to websites that load faster to ensure its users are served with the best results from its index archive.
If you’re not sure whether your website loads fast or not, you can use the Google PageSpeed Insights tool.
10. Content Optimization
Apart from providing quality, in-depth content to your readers, ensuring that each content is optimized is key to ranking high on Google. With the evolution of SEO, elements such as keyword density is no longer a priority.
One of the best ways to optimize your content is to use focus keyword in some specific parts of the content, including in the;
- Title or meta tag
- Meta description (if you use SEO plugins)
- H2 Tag (or other subtitles – not all subtitles)
- Within the
As I said, SEO is evolving, and now pages still rank on the first page of Google for a keyword that isn’t even in the meta title. They rank because of LSI Keywords (keywords related to your focus keyword) or because the search phrase is a synonym.
This is a good example;
Google now uses topics and context to understand what your post is all about. That means you can use less of the exact keyword and more of related keywords to enjoy diverse rankings (ranking for multiple keywords).
For more details on how to optimize your blog post, you can have a look at this simplified guide – 17 Things to Do Before You Publish a Blog Post.
11. Image Optimization
As you focus on content optimization and using the keyword or phrase and its related phrases within your content, optimizing your images for search engines is also important. The best ways to do image SEO include;
- Compress images to reduce their sizes (large images lead to slow page speeds)
- Name the image according to your focus keyword/topic
- Include keyword-rich ALT text when you upload
- Use the right captions
- Include image title attribute with the focus keyword
- Add keyword-rich description when you upload
12. Including Outbound Links
A study done by Reboot Online showed that pages that link to authoritative pages rank higher than those that do not. They created content and published it on 10 brand new websites, where five websites contained outbound links and the other five didn’t.
They then measured the rankings of each of the ten sites after making sure they had all been indexed. Reboot Online found that the five websites that contained outbound links ranked higher than the five websites that had no external links.
That indicates that linking to reputable sources within your niche adds credibility to your content. Word of advice though, do not add too many outbound links as it can devalue your authority as a source.
13. Topical Authority
Establishing yourself as an authority in a specific niche can be key to outranking even the biggest competitors with hundreds or thousands of backlinks. Google highlights something they call E-A-T, which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
However, it’s not easy to achieve this, especially if you just do blogging and you don’t really have the authority to give someone advanced advice. That’s why focusing on a specific niche is key, rather than being a jack of all trades and a master on none.
For example, you can choose to hone your skills and expertise as a travel blogger by actually traveling and using the products you review, such as a backpack, carry-on bag, luggage tags, packing cubes, travel bottles, international travel adapter, multi USB charger, digital camera, GoPro camera, money belt, travel pillow, earplugs, etc.
Someone is more likely to connect with you as a trustworthy source because you’re using these items in your travels, and you can easily display your expertise on how to choose the right one and use each of them.
Other websites are also more likely to link to you because you have proven your Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
For a keyword like “best video editing software”, the websites that rank on the first page of Google include PCMag, TechRadar, and Tom’s Guide. They outrank other giant websites for the same reason.
So, just focus on a specific niche and aim to be the best at what you do. Over time it will be easier to outrank your competitors and generate endless backlinks.
Although there are hundreds of Google ranking factors, focusing on the ones we have highlighted will give you an edge over your competitors. You don’t have to aim to do 200 things for every post you intend to publish when you can focus on the fundamentals and still rank among the best.