Google’s Top Ranking Factors Revealed

For a few years, the lingering question for internet marketing has been “what does Google look for when it crawls websites?” SEOs and internet marketers have always had ideas about the factors Google deems important, but there has never been a definitive answer. While most SEO professionals could guess the top factors, it’s never been explicitly stated. This information has been considered to be the Holy Grail of the Search Engine Optimization world, and now we have finally have some answers.

Recently during a question and answer session, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, shed some light on what the three biggest factors in Google’s rank algorithm are. The three main factors are links (specifically backlinking), content and RankBrain. Lipattsev said that between links and content there was no difference as to which was more important, while RankBrain is a close third. This provides SEOs with a clearer view of how each of these factor affects a website’s rankings.


The age old, ancient mystery of acquiring backlinks has troubled strategists since the beginning of streamlined SEO tactics. Fortunately, backlink acquisition has become a little less troublesome after Google admitted their SERP’s rationale. With the emphasis on link building and our known history of Google favoring white hat link building tactics, how do we earn links to sites and receive SERP ranking boosts under the new Penguin guidelines?

First and foremost, we need to re-iterate that these two ranking factors need to work together in order for your site to receive higher value:

  • Quality of backlinks will continue to rank higher
  • Quantity of backlinks will continue to rank higher

Don’t worry! This means that your former mainstream white hat tactics are still in play. However, over the years, and most notably with the Penguin update, Google’s algorithms have become a little more apprehensive when it comes to random backlink acquisition. Google has admitted that a specialist’s goal is to ensure that the links related to their site are not superfluous, however, it’s pertinent to keep in mind that “1 link is better than no link,” especially when factoring page rank.
SEO Hacker has taken some of the guesswork and speculation out of factoring page rank in terms of backlinks with their PageRank score sheet:

  • PageRank 0 – 0 – 10 Links
  • PageRank 1 – 10 – 100 Links
  • PageRank 2 – 100 – 1,000 Links
  • PageRank 3 – 1,000 – 10, 000 Links
  • PageRank 4 – 10,000 – 100,000 Links
  • PageRank 5 – 100,000 – 1,000,000 Links

Backlinking is imperative to SERP rankings and requires the implementation of interesting and engaging content. With local markets, emphasizing local events–business fairs–company outings–charities–anything that would potentially draw real time users in and incentivize them to share your link–is the best course of action when building links. Additionally, adding other businesses to your event’s advertisements will provide users more information to refer to when planning or creating a buzz throughout social media networks or even in the physical world.

With Google devaluing spam and manipulation more and more with each algorithm update, it becomes more evident that human interaction is the most advantageous environment for link acquisition and real time value. With domain authority ranking so highly for long-established corporation sites, the only way to create activity is through localities.

If you’re still curious about backlink acquisition, there’s more information located on our company blog here.

Quality Content

Another important factor contributing to the result of a search query is content. Content sends signals to visitors and search engines about the quality and purpose of a site, making it imperative to search. Not only do you want to engage people so they click to your site, but once they click you want them to be engaged to build trust. Having quality content, images and other forms of content will help improve the user experience.

Content is weighed heavily in Google’s ranking algorithm because it indicates information not only about your site, but about your business as a whole. Fresh and interesting content grabs the attention of users, keeping them on the site longer. Duplicate content and keyword-stuffed content can indicate that a site is low quality or even spammy, which can be a detriment to SERP rankings. Keywords should be in the natural flow of the content and not forced to fit. When you do content right, it is an effective marketing strategy.

Here are some tips for writing good content:

  • Content should be high quality, trustworthy, useful and interesting while providing a remarkable feel. It doesn’t have to include everything, but a good combination of the above factors is best.
  • Unique content that stands out and differs from your competitors is best and can provide a ranking advantage.
  • You want to draw emotion and create a sense of awe—a feeling of surprise or joy.
  • Content should also solve a problem or answer a question by providing comprehensive, accurate and exceptional information.
  • Lastly, content should be pleasant and leave the reader feeling fulfilled.

Content is key because it adds to a good user experience and speaks to the search engines as well. Google puts a lot of weight on good, useful content. So, while writing content, keep these key tips in mind.


The engineers and research team at Google have implemented functional artificial intelligence, nicknamed RankBrain, into the Hummingbird algorithm and it has since become the third most important ranking factor in determining search results. In an interview with Bloomberg Technology, one of Google’s Senior Research Scientists, Greg Corrado describes Rankbrain as “a learning system…an artificial intelligence, that interprets language, interprets your queries, in a way that has some of the gut feelings and guess-ability of people.”

Corrado explains further, that RankBrain takes unfamiliar or colloquial phrases and uses its database to generalize and interpret the intended meaning. This ability for a program to understand ambiguous language is like our ability to understand someone in a crowded bar, according to Corrado. RankBrain has been able to reduce the amount of new queries by 10% since 2007. Given that the search engine processes millions of requests per minute, this is an exceedingly large step forward.

The impact RankBrain has on SEO is pretty substantial because search engines rely heavily on this artificial intelligence to help understand what searchers are truly looking for. This will broaden results for keywords and will threaten keyword specific reporting. RankBrain’s goal is to intuitively understand the searchers queries and pull up results based more on the intention of the search rather than the specific wording of the search.

If RankBrain can mature and develop this goal, it will change the way searchers interact with search engines as well as how marketers strategize. The searcher could ask a question to the search engine the same way they could ask another person and the search engine would respond with results based around how the question was asked. In this way, Google’s strides in artificial intelligence creates a new challenge for SEO by making the user experience more simplified and impactful.

We finally have a validated idea of what to focus on while optimizing websites. Take advantage of this gift Google has bestowed upon us. Write good content–explore opportunities for relevant backlinking and keep in mind that we’re dealing with artificial intelligence that only gets smarter as time goes on. This is beneficial for us as new unique businesses are popping up everywhere and may have not been searched on Google before. RankBrain will help filter these ambiguous inquiries to a place where they might be found. While there are many other things that have some impact on rankings, it’s important to keep these top three in mind while performing search engine optimization tactics.