The Secret Google Ranking Factors You Need To Rank Your Website

Although there isn’t an official list of Google ranking factors, we do know a lot about the signals that Google use across their index to rank sites accordingly.

This information comes from a combination of official sources, case studies, experience and my own personal experimentation.

Google ranking factors seo checklist

While it is impossible to know if the list of Google ranking factors below is complete – I can say with great confidence that the vast majority of them are covered.

It is also important to note that not all of the below are strictly ranking signals, some of them are indexing/crawling signals which in turn are part of the overall search process.

You should also be aware that Google rarely looks at just 1 ranking signal and tend to ‘stack signals’ to build a bigger picture.

I have broken down the Google ranking factors into their respective categories and whether they are a positive or negative factor-

Don’t forget to check out my detailed video about the 3 new Google keyword ranking factors.

The Complete List Of Google Ranking Factors


This is a list of domain level Google ranking factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively.

Positive Factors

Exact Match Domain

Exact match domains or EMD’s as they are known used to rank very easily. However Google cracked down on this with the EMD update.

You still get a small amount of benefit from an exact match domain but now you have an extra quality layer (patent) to please with your site thanks to the EMD update.

Keywords In Domain

Having your target keyword in the domain used to give a huge boost. However it has been confirmed that it isn’t as important as it once was.

It is also worth noting that target keywords are still bolded in the domains of search results which helps them stand out more and attract a higher CTR, however you do not need the keyword in the domain to rank.

Keyword In Subdomain

Having your keyword as part of your sub domain can also help give you a minor rankings boost. Hoewever Google do treat sub domains as entirely different web property.

This was seen when HubPages recovered using sub domains.

Domain History

The history of your domain also has an impact on how your site performs.

If the domain has been in trouble in Google in the past through link spam or bad neighbourhoods it will be harder to rank.

Take a look at what Google check for.

Domain Age

The belief that older domains rank better was confirmed by Matt Cutts. However it does not carry that much weight in the algorithm.

Domain Registration Date

In a patent filing Google they said-

The date that a domain with which a document is registered may be used as an indication of the inception date of the document.

Domain Renewal Date

In the same patent they also said-

Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith.

Country TLD Extension

Having a cTLD like a .es domain does help with geo-targeting indication but at the same time it doesn’t mean they are inherently easier to rank in their target country. You could rank a .com in the Spanish Google just as easily.

Negative Factors

Private Whois Data

Matt Cutt’s suggested that private Whois data can be combined with other factors as a negative signal.

Having private Whois data on it’s own isn’t a problem – but it is used as part of the bigger picture.

Penalized Whois Owner

I cannot find any official Google reference for this but there have seen a couple of examples where it seems the Whois owner is penalised.

Granted the examples I have seen were extreme examples of abuse and I’m thinking of 2 people in particular where Google wiped out every single web property whether it was abused or not.

However this is far from confirmed.

Country TLD Extension

Where the cTLD will count as a negative signal is if you have a Spanish domain but are trying to rank it in the Russian market.

However the domain extension on it’s own isn’t enough, because if you put Russian content on a Spanish domain it will rank in Russia.

So while this is a signal it is a very minor one that is used in conjunction with others.

Exact Match Domain

Having an exact match domain does give you a bit of extra credit – however the new risk here is that you trip the EMD filter.

This filter is specifically looking at exact match domains and is a filter you wouldn’t have to go through if you didn’t have an EMD.

So by choosing to use an EMD you are choosing to go through an extra layer of the algorithm.

Parked Domain

If you have a parked domain Google are actively removing them from their index after the parked domains update.

Page Level

A list of page level factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively.

Positive Factors

URL Contains Keyword

Having the target keyword in your URL will help improve relevancy and boost rankings.

Take a look at this case study to see just how important that is.

Title Tag Contains Keyword

The title tag is a very strong signal for Google & having your target keyword in the title tag will help your rankings.

Having your keyword closer to the start of your title tag will also give you a minor boost.

Although this is less important than it once was and just having your keyword in the title is enough to feel the benefits.

Meta Description Contains Keyword

Having your keyword in your meta description is also important.

You should also use the meta description to include other related words & terms.

H1 Tag Contains Keyword

The H1 tag is a strong signal for Google and should include your target keyword.

Other Headings Contain Keyword

Having your keyword present in other headings such as your H2 or H3 tags will also help. However it is much better to use these headers to include LSI keywords and avoid over optimising.

Main Body Content Contains Keyword

Mentioning your target keyword a couple of times in the main body of your content will also help improve relevancy.

Keyword Order

The order of your keywords also has a small impact. For example someone searching for download antivirus software will see different results than antivirus software download even though the intent is the same.

LSI Keywords

Latent Semantic Indexing keywords help search engines work out if you are talking about Orange the colour, Orange the fruit or Orange the mobile phone network.

Including LSI keywords in your title, description and main content helps Google index & understand the topic of your page better.

Site Speed

We know that if you speed up website load time, you will rank higher.

Faster websites provide a better user experience, increases engagement & converts more.

Unique Content

Having unique content across your entire site is a strong quality signal. Make sure content is original and not duplicated.

Whether it is a blog post or a product descriptipn – make sure your content is unique.

Length Of Content

Longer content ranks better & converts better period.

The average content length for sites in the top 10 is at least 2,000 words. Longer content attracts more engagement, links and social signals. Oh and it converts more.

Schema / Rich Snippet Markup

Integrating all relevant Schema and Rich Snippet markup with something like Author Hreview to your page helps you spoon feed data to Google which is then shown in the SERPS which in turn get a higher click through rate.


Having unique images and videos to support your main content is a quality signal.

Image Optimisation

Google will also look at your usage of images so make sure that you use your keyword in the file name and alt text. Don’t over optimise by including your keyword in the file name, alt text, title tag and description tag though.

You should also be looking to optimise your EXIF data according to Matt Cutt’s.

Google have recently updated their image capability and can now recognise 2 pizzas on top of an oven without any help from file names or alt text.

Fresh Content

Way back in 2010 Google released the Caffeine update which was designed to return fresher and more up to date results.

This was a significant shift in how Google indexes the web and favours fresher content.

Updated Content

Updating older content will also see a positive impact. You need to do a little more than just changing the date though. Google is looking for significant updates to content in order to label them as ‘fresh’.

Spelling & Grammar

Matt Cutt’s categorically stated that spelling & grammar doesn’t matter in 2011.

However he has since made a new video where he advises it does matter in your main content.

Outbound Links

Outbound links can also affect your overall rankings. When you link to another site in essence your are ‘voting’ for it and associating your website with it as well.

It is important to make sure anything you link to is credible and relevant to your site. Matt Cutt’s has some advice about this.

Internal Links

Just like external links affect your rankings so do internal links as well. Specifically the number of internal links and quality of those pointing to a given page on your site.

It was shown just how important internal links are on ranking.

Syndicated Content

A lot of people are terrified of posting syndicated content in case they get flagged for duplicate content. However there are a couple of bits of advice.

Syndicating content is fine, but make sure you are linking back to the original source.

Supplementary Content

Having supplementary content is a strong quality signal. The 2014 version of the Google Quality Rater Guidelines make this very clear.

Google provide the example that a recipe page might have a feature to multiple or divide the recipe based on how many people you are serving.

Reading Level

Google measure the reading level of pages and label them as either basic, intermediate or advanced.

You can access this by doing a search, then clicking on search tools > all results > reading level.


As you can see my site is ‘basic’ but it still ranks very well. It doesn’t appear that Google are using this as an active signal, but they certainly have the data.

W3C Validation

W3C code validation is not a ranking factor period.

Domain Authority

The overall authority of the domain also has an impact on how your page ranks. Assuming everything is equal the page on the more authoritative domain will always rank higher.

This is something I see with my own authority sites where they have what I call ‘page 1 pull’ where I can publish an article and have it appear on page 1 for it’s target keywords with no additional effort.

Negative Factors

Duplicate Meta Descriptions

Matt Cutt’s answered the question of whether it was important for every page to have a meta description.

He said it isn’t necessary however you should use unique meta descriptions or no meta descriptions at all. Whatever you do – don’t use duplicate meta descriptions.

Duplicate Title Tags

Just like with Meta Descriptions you should ensure every page has a unique Title tag and there are no duplicate title tags across your site.

Underscores In Title Tags

Matt Cutt’s specifically said not to use underscores as seperators in your title tags.

Instead you should use commas, pipes or dashes to separate your titles.

Keyword Stuffed Meta Tags

Having a keyword stuffed title tag or meta description will negatively affect you. For example if your title tag is ‘Link Building | Link Building Services | Link Building Strategy’ that is keyword stuffed.

Instead you should have something more natural like ‘Link Building Services – The Perfect Strategy’

Meta Keywords

While not strictly a negative factor the meta keywords tag was originally used to help software indexing.

Google have never used the meta keywords tag as a ranking signal since they launched in 1998. They do read the tags – but they are not a ranking factor.

Keyword Density

Way back when we used to build sites to have the perfect keyword density. It seemed that around 3% was the ‘sweet spot’ – however since then Google has got much better a processing language and understanding the topics of webpages.

When optimising for keyword density it is very easy to over optimise and get caught out. So ignore keyword density and just make sure your target keyword is mentioned in the title tag, meta description, H1 tag and once or twice in the main content.

Slow Load Times

Just like having a fast site serves as a positive factor having a slow loading site will act as a negative factor assuming all other things are equal.

Duplicate Content

Having a lot of duplicate content on your site will hurt you. Matt Cutt’s has said that a little duplicate content isn’t so bad. For example if you are quoting another page.

But if your site features a lot of duplicate content throughout it will be penalised. Learn more about how Google handles duplicate content.

Hidden Content

Hiding content specifically to manipulate search, increase word count or increase the number of keywords on a page can get you penalised. Especially if you use the classic div display none trick.

Irrelevant Image Alt Tags

For a long time we have been using ALT tags to tell Google what our images are about. Typically we use the image alt tag to include a relevant keyword.

However Google can understand images now so if you have a picture of a Zebra with the alt text best iPhone deals you are going to have a hard time.

Outbound Links

If you are not careful you could end up with a site wide penalty.

If you have never read the linked article it is worth reading. Google do hand out penaltys for outbound links, even if it’s just 1 bad outbound link across your entire site.

Also having too many outbound links can hurt your sites ranking. The Quality rater document clear states “Some pages have way, way too many links, obscuring the page and distracting from the Main Content”.

Broken Links

Having too many broken links is a sign of a low quality site according to Google’s rater guidelines. However you should not be worried about having the odd broken link here and there.

But broken links are quick to fix so if you have them, fix them.

Too Many Affiliate Links

Google and affiliates historically do not get on. For the most part affiliates are a pain for Google as they contribute a huge amount of spam and low quality sites to the web.

Having affiliate links isn’t a problem, but if your spamming affiliate links throughout your content you are going to run into trouble. Either way you should be nofollowing all of your affiliate links.

HTML Errors

While W3C code validation is not a ranking factor, neither are HTML errors unless those errors interfere with how Google spiders and indexes page.

Stay on top of HTML errors and fix them as they are reported in Google Webmaster Tools.

URL Length

The length of your URL can have a negative impact on your rankings.

Site Level

A list of site level Google rankings factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively.

Positive Factors

Domain Trust

Having a good standing history of trust with Google has a huge influence. Trusted sites can get away with more and enjoy higher rankings across the board.

Trust is measured across a range of signals including links from highly trusted sites.

Contact Us

Google’s Search Rater guidelines says that sites should have easily accessible contact information to help build trust.

Privacy Policy & Terms

Having a privacy policy and terms of use pages also provide relevant trust signals. If you use Google Adsense for example these pages are required.

However this could introduce the possibility of duplicate content but Google say its not a problem.

About Us Page

Just like having a contact, privacy policy & terms of use pages help to build trust with Google. So does having a detailed about us page.

Site Structure

Organizing your site into a silo structure is a positive signal for your site. Many people have a flat structure eg domain.com/post-name but its much better to have a silo structure.

This would look something like domain.com/seo/ranking-factors or domain.com/social-media/facebook-marketing for example.

Site Freshness

Just like freshness has an impact on the page level, it also has an impact on the domain level.

Make sure you are adding content to your site regularly. I have found in my own tests that adding a new 2000 word article every day to a site builds great trust with Google.

Number Of Pages

The number of pages a site has is not a ranking signal on it’s own.

However having more indexed pages does mean you have more chances to rank for different keywords and are more likely to attract incoming links which does have an impact.

XML Sitemap

Having an XML sitemap will help Google spider your site easily.

This doesn’t guarantee that Google is going to index all of the pages in the sitemap, but it does help them get around your site.

However not having a sitemap isn’t a negative factor assuming that your site structure is correct and Google can spider the site properly.

HTML Sitemap

Why stop at just an XML sitemap when you can have a HTML sitemap as well?

Although this seems to be an old practice that is rarely seen now but it can help your users and Google bots.

Server Location

The geographic location of your server/hosting does have a factor in helping to decide which countries your site will show up in.

This was addressed in two separate videos from Matt Cutts.


Google are officially using HTTPS as a ranking signal.

Although at the moment it is a very minor signal and certainly not strong enough for me to move this blog over to HTTPS any time soon.

Breadcrumb Rich Snippets

Having breadcrumb navigation on your site will help with the overall architecture of the site.


What helps even more is having the RichSnippet mark up for breadcrumbs in place.


Mobile Optimisation

Making sure your site has a responsive design and displays well on mobile devices will ensure it performs well in the mobile world.

Google recently introduced the mobile friendly tag and even have a mobile friendly testing tool.

Negative Factors

Site Downtime

A day or two of downtime will not inherently hurt your rankings.

However Google will remove your site from the index entirely if is unavailable for around a week or more. On the bright side once your site is backup – Google will reinclude it in the index.

Duplicate Meta Content

We discussed before how important it is to have a unique title and meta description for each page.

Having duplicate meta information across your site can lead to less visibility in the search engines.

Not Optimized For Mobile

While not having a responsive design won’t hurt your rankings in desktop search, having a mobile friendly design is very important to showing up in mobile search.

For example this blog performs very badly in mobile search and is something that is high on my list of priority’s to fix.

Poor User Engagement

Google know precisely how many pages people visit on your site and how much time they spend on each page. They know if the user bounces or keeps reading.

They know this regardless of whether you have Google Analytics installed or not.

You might wonder how they know exactly which webpages every single person on the internet visits – but I’m going to save that revelation for later this week.

Sites with poor user engagement signals such as high bounce rate and low time on site do drop in the rankings.

Negative Reviews

If your site has a bad reputation on sites like Yelp.com, RipOffReport.com or Google Places you will suffer in the long term for that.

This was addressed after someone came up with the ingenious way to earn links by treating customers badly.

Adverts Above The Fold

If your site is ‘top heavy’ with adverts above the fold that distract from the main content of your site you will suffer.

Pagerank Sculpting

Pagerank Sculpting is the practice of nofollowing all outbounds links and nofollowing specifc internal links in order to control the flow of PageRank. Abusing this will get you in trouble.

Blocking Access To CSS/JS

Blocking Google Bot’s access to your sites CSS or JS files will directly harm your sites performance in search results.

Panda Penalty

Google specifically targets low quality sites with the Panda update.

If your site is penalised you will see huge drops in search visibility across every single page on your site.


A list of backlink related factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively.

Positive Factors

Anchor Text

The anchor text of the backlink helps Google understand the topic of the linked page. It is not as relevant as it once was and you should be mixing generic and branded anchors to steer clear of Penguin.

Link Title

The title of a link also helps indicate the topic of a page although it is a much weaker signal than anchor text.

Domain & Page Relevancy

A link from a domain and/or page that is relevant is much more valuable than a link coming from an irrelevant site. For example you wouldn’t want a link from this blog if you sold garden furniture online.

Link Sentiment

The text around a link also helps Google work out the relevancy and whether or not the link is a positive or negative citation.

Keyword In Title

Links coming from pages that have either the same or tightly related keywords in their title are much more valuable than those that don’t.

Domain Authority

Getting backlinks from domains with high levels of authority & trust are a significant ranking factor.

Page Authority

The overall authority of the page that you are getting a link from also plays a big role. A link from an authoritative page from an authoritative domain is the holy grail.

Number Of Links

The overall number of domains that link to your site is also very important. Sites with links from more root domains have higher rankings than sites that do not.

Age Of Backlink

Google have a patent that shows the age of a backlink is relevant. Older backlinks are more powerful than newly created ones.

C-Class IP’s

However the number of links from domains only counts if those domains are all on separate class-c IP address ranges. You want to have links from lots of different domains on lots of different IP ranges for maximum effect.


Make sure you have backlinks coming in from a range of sources. Relying on just 1 ‘link type’ such as blog comments for example stands out and is not natural.

You want a diverse mix of link types coming from relevant and authoritative sources.

Competing Pages

Getting links from pages that are currently in the top 10 for your target keyword will boost your own sites rankings.

Social Authority

A link from a page that has a high number of social shares is worth more than a link coming from a page that does not have a high number of social shares.

Guest Posting

Matt Cutt’s discussed guest blogging in detail and you will get penalised for spammy guest blogging for links.

However Google also realise that guest posting is a legitimate mechanism to increase exposure, branding & traffic. So pay attention to these important videos.

Homepage Links

Links coming from the homepage of a site carry more weight than links that come from inner pages that are found further away from the homepage in structure.

Contextual/Editorial Links

Links coming from the main content of a page are known as contextual or editorial links.

These links carry the most weight compared to any other link. For example an editorial link is an awful lot more powerful than a footer link from the same page.

User Generated Content Links

Google knows the difference between user generated content and content that is published by the actual site. Links coming from the actual site are more powerful than links coming from user generated content on the same site – a forum for example.

301 Redirects

A link that reaches your site via a 301 redirect is just as powerful as a normal link.


Although links from Wikipedia are Nofollow, Wikipedia backlinks are highly authoritative in Google’s eyes. If you get your site listed as a source of information you will also receive targeted traffic.

Positive Link Velocity

Link velocity is a measurement of how many links you gain over time. It is important to maintain a positive link velocity.

Nofollow Links

Matt Cutt’s has confirmed that incoming NoFollow links do not hurt your sites rankings.

However if this is massively abused by people spamming blogs with thousands of comments, then those links can be used to dish out a penalty.

Word Count Of Page

A link from a page that has a 2,000 word count is worth more than a link from a page with only 100 words.

Number Of Outbound Links

A link from a page that has hundreds of links to other sites is worth a lot less than a link from a page that only has a few links to other sites.

Sitewide Links

A link from the sidebar of a site that is present on every page of the site is treated as a single link.

Negative Factors

Bad Neighbourhoods

Having links from sites that have been identified as a ‘bad neighbourhood’ by Google will hurt your site.

For example if Google has uncovered a blog network and your site has a lot of links from that network – you are in trouble.

Same C-Class

Having lots of links from IP addresses in the same C class is not natural and is usually an indication of manipulation.

Guest Posting

Guest posting was a great way to get backlinks a couple years back, however spammy guest posting will get you penalised.

So if your throwing together poor quality articles to guest post purely for the sake of links, make sure you are nofollowing them – Google are actively cracking down on this activity.

Buying Links

You will be penalised if you get caught out buying or sponsoring links. If you do buy links make sure they have the NoFollow tag applied to mitigate any risk.

Although if I put my Black Hat on paid links like those from the Jacob Hagberg SEO service are VERY effective – until you get caught.

Selling Links

Just like buying links can get you in trouble, so can selling links. There have been numerous examples of well known sites selling links and being penalised accordingly. Again, that only happens if you get caught.

Negative Link Velocity

Link velocity is a measurement of how many links you gain or lose over time. A negative link velocity will have a negative affect on your visibility in search.

Reciprocal Linking

Reciprocal linking used to be very effective but an update many years ago killed that. It is now seen as a link scheme and should be avoided.

Forum Profiles

Links form forum profiles used to be highly effective however this will now get you penalised if systematically abused.

Linking Relevancy

Sites with a high percentage of links coming from unrelated or irrelevant sites rank lower than sites that do have a high % of relevant links.

Penguin Penalty

The Google Penguin penalty tends to focus on your backlink profile and can affect you on a page and domain level.

User Engagement

A list of user engagment factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively.

Positive Factors

Page Level SERP Click Through Rate

Pages that get a higher click through rate in search results get a boost in rankings. Mark my words, this is one of the most effective ways to rank today. Given the choice between the perfect backlink profile and a high SERP CTR – I would choose the CTR every day.

Domain Level SERP Click Through Rate

Domains that attract high click through rates across all of their pages will be reward with higher visibility across the site.

Dwell Time / Pogo Sticking

Google measures if people stay on your page after visiting it from a Google search. If the user spends a long time away from the results this is a positive signal.

Low Bounce Rate

Google knows exactly which pages you visit and how much time you spend on them regardless of which browser you use or if your site has Google Analytics.

Sites with a low bounce rate are rewarded with higher visibility in the SERPS.

Pages Per Visit

Sites that engage users for longer periods of time and/or visit multiple pages are ranked higher than sites that do not.

Direct Traffic

A site that gets a lot of direct traffic is deemed to by of higher quality than a site that doesn’t get much direct traffic.

Returning Visitors

Sites that have a high percentage of returning visitors are deemed to be of higher quality than sites that don’t get many return visitors.


Pages that attract user engagement in the form of comments are a clear signal of quality and user interaction.

Negative Factors

Page Level SERP Click Through Rate

Pages that get a low click through rate in search results will get dropped from the first page regardless of other factors.

Domain Level SERP Click Through Rate

Domains that have a low click through rates across all of their pages will have much less visibility across search results.

Dwell Time / Pogo Sticking

Google measures if people stay on your page after visiting it from a Google search. If the user visits your site and quickly returns to the results, this is a clear sign to Google that your page is of low quality.

High Bounce Rate

Sites with a high bounce rate will see a negative effect on their rankings across the board.

Social Signals

A list of social media related factors that can affect your rankings positively or negatively.

Positive Factors


The number of tweets a given URL or domain will influence rankings in Google.

Facebook Shares

It is generally thought that Google do not have access to Facebook’s data, but that is not true.

The number of times your page/domain has been shared on Facebook has an impact on your rankings and is the most valuable Facebook signal.

Facebook Comments

Like Facebook Shares, the number of comments a given URL has received on Facebook has a positive impact on rankings although less important than shares.

Facebook Likes

Facebook Likes of a URL/Domain also has positive traction in the SERPS although this Facebook signal is the weakest of the 3.

Pinterest Pins

Having your URL pinned and re-pinned on Pinterest is a strong social signal that has a positive impact on rankings.

Google +1s

Although Google have said that Google +1’s do not affect rankings I have found the opposite to be true.

The other benefit of Google +1’s is if you are signed into your Google account when searching this will be used to personalise your results.


Relevancy of your social signals is also important. For example having an industry leader like Rand Fishkin mention this blog on social is very valuable.

Positive Social Velocity

Just like you can have a positive link velocity you can also have a positive social velocity. I have used positive social velocity to bring Penguin penalised sites back to the #1 spot.

Negative Factors

Negative Social Velocity

Negative social velocity will see your site drop in rankings. For example if you bought 1,000 Tweets today and 3 days later 900 of them were removed – that would damage your rankings.

I mentioned brining penalised sites back to the #1 spot with positive social velocity, as the velocity drops off – so does the ranking.

Brand Signals

A list of brand signals that can affect your rankings positively or negatively.

Positive Factors

Branded Anchor Text

Anchor texts that include your brand a very strong signal to Google. For example Matthew Woodward Link Building is much more powerful than just Link Building

Branded Searches

Similar to branded anchor text, when people search Google including your brand with associated keywords offers a huge boost in rankings. For example people searching for Matthew Woodward SEO tells Google my brand is important to SEO.

Brand Mentions / Citations

Having your brand mentioned on popular sites is a clear signal to Google. Even if you don’t get a link, just the fact your brand was mentioned is enough to see positive traction.

Facebook Presence

Popular brands have a presence on Facebook with a strong following.

Twitter Presence

Popular brands have a presence on Twitter with a strong following.

LinkedIn Company Pages

Popular brands have a dedicated LinkedIn page for their business which also shows employees.

Social Activity

Brands that are more active on social media/engaging with people are more popular than brands that do not.

Brick & Mortar Business

The majority of real businesses have physical brick & mortar premises. Listing your address in the websites footer along with a Google+ listing is a strong brand signal.

Negative Factors

Negative Reviews

If your brand has a bad reputation on sites like Yelp.com, RipOffReport.com or Google Places you will suffer in the long term for that.

Low Branded Click Through Rate

If people are searching for your brand and associated keywords but do not click through to your site, that is a negative brand signal.

Wrapping It Up

So there you have it – all known Google ranking factors in one place for your convenience!

With this knowledge in hand, you now know how to improve google search ranking for any website on the planet.

Although this isn’t an official list, it is a list that I stand by based on my own experience of ranking sites. What is interesting though is how the list of ranking signals has grown over the past decade.

I’m going to go all out again and categorically state that backlinks are not the most important ranking factor for long term rankings and haven’t been for the past 2 years.

User engagement and brand signals are more important than ever before. If you are not paying attention to these areas you are going to have a hard time in 2015.

In my next post I’m going to reveal the 3 new major ranking factors Google are using today & how to beat them.

I will also tell you precisely how Google know which pages you visit and how long for regardless of whether you use Google Search, Google Analytics, Google Chrome or Google Toolbar.

And let’s not forget about these Bing SEO best practices as well!

132 Responses

  1. Daniel

    Boy oh boy! Just gave it a birds eye view.. Fantastic as ever.
    Now lemme get me a cup of coffee and sit through this whole post.

    Thanks ALOT Matt! :D

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Hope it helps you out!

  2. Mark

    Nice post, I’d add if you have a .com trying to rank for another country (other than US), add geo meta tag. I’ve seen this work well. If your site targets different areas on different pages, on those pages use the right geo meta tags.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Nice tip!

      • Cosmin
        December 11th, 2014 at 10:12 pm

        Not only that its a factor for Google but for Bing and Yahoo its something different. They woun`t index all your pages/rank you well if you don`t add geo location and language as meta information.

      • Cosmin
        December 11th, 2014 at 10:20 pm

        Hello Matthew,

        I`ve been looking over your posts since the event tracking tutorial for Analytics.

        I`m in the SEO business for a very long time and I believe what you should add into this equation, is the purpose of the site and the niche.

        If you are doing SEO for long businesses, other factors come in place as well, such as verified Google Places location, reviews, being indexed in sites such as Yelp etc.

        On the other hand, if you are building for “Made for Adsense”, there are still a lot of blackhat methods which are still working great and you don`t have to put all the effort into all these signals because some represent a stronger signal than the other; and finally:

        If you build a long term business, all this info is a must have and I know its hard for someone that is a newbie but its a start because all of this is a theory, when it comes to practice, things are getting much more complicated; but does this means you have to quit ?

        Well figure that out for yourself :)

        Hope I could offer an extra layer of information.


        • Matthew Woodward
          December 14th, 2014 at 5:05 pm

          Thanks for your extra inputs :)

  3. Vijay Janardhanan

    Great info as usual Matt… I agree. Social signals matter. Anchor text is not of much significance I would think. I have seen pages rank for terms with 0% exact anchor.

    PS: the way you listed positive, negative link factors. Are you using some plugin to list and categorize text ?

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      No it’s just straight HTML

  4. Webdesignly

    Wow ! Another great article :) Thank you for this great information . Nowadays google pays a lot more attention to articles that give people the information they want , Not just the main website with root domain address ,
    The world of internet is changing :)

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      It is indeed!

  5. Nathan Sheusi

    Thanks for citations! Awesome list!

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      No problemo!

  6. Amod

    Waiting to read how Google tracks you without analytics installed or using chrome…

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      All will be revealed =D

  7. Michael L Watson

    Great post thanks Matt

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      No worrys :)

  8. Mark J

    Nice list. Should it have included a mention of negative SEO?

    So where does this leave your previous articles on tiered linking, GSA, network building and other ‘manufactured’ link building techniques? Are they now all irrelevant and incorrect?

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:45 pm


      They are all included in the negative signals area.

      Manufactured link building techniques are still working just as well as ever before, however you need a tighter grip on things now than you did 12 months ago.

      Additionally backlinks are a much smaller part of the equation, if you are not taking social signals and engagement metrics into account – you won’t rank for very long.

  9. Alex Pope

    Hi Matt ! I’m Alex… first thanks for share with us this great content. I follow your blog for months and I am convinced it is one of the best blogs that I read. Congratulations and thank you again

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks Alex =D

  10. hammad

    Excellent explaination matt! better than moz and backlinko! keep it up!

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 10th, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Actually I thought Brians was much prettier

  11. Damien Porter

    Excellent, comprehensive and easy to follow checklist. Thank you Matthew, some great advice to follow.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      Thanks Damien!

  12. Maurizio

    a nice, complete list with real signals that influence Google, compliments Matthew, another great post!

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      Thanks Maurizio

  13. eldy

    nothing new.. SEO is not dead..

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      And as long as search engines exist, it never will be :)

  14. Muaz

    Thanks a lot Matthew, your post open up my mind about how to do a proper SEO ..

    This ranking factors absolutely true..

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      I hope it has helped!

  15. Alex

    Great post Matt. I will be sure to print this out.

    Keep the posts rolling.

    It’s funny how some people came out and said NO to guest posting. It’s still a very good way to gain reach in your given industry.


    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      I’ll keep posting, you keep printing =D

  16. itos

    Wow! Thanks Matt you have done it again with an awesome piece of content. Most people don’t check their site speed as a ranking factor. Even if you don’t think it’s good for SEO it’s good for user retention so you don’t lose sales because a slow site.

  17. Kerh

    Hello Matthew,
    Thanks for sharing. Too good to just reading it. Have printed a copy for daily reference.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      Awesome =D

  18. Chirag

    great stuff man!!!

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      Thanks Chirag

  19. Muhammad Asim

    Nice article to understand the factors that can make your ranking better. Thanks Matt to share such a useful article. I always love to hear form you :)
    Waiting for your next blasting email.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      THanks Muhammed

  20. Glenys

    Matthew, thanks so much for mentioning my post about ranking with internal links. I really appreciate it.

    Thanks also for all of the invaluable tips and leads that you have included in your article; there’s a wealth of information here to come back to.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      No problem at all :) If you ever wanted to design a case study for me to run and publish on this blog feel free – I know the internal linking sucks!

      • Glenys
        December 12th, 2014 at 1:07 am

        Thanks Matthew!!

        Re. linking that sucks (as mentioned at the end of your comment), did you mean external linking??

        With respect to internal linking, I particularly like the control that we can have over the process and the fact that the links are virtually instantaneous.

        Thanks again for all the valuable information that you pass onto us via your posts and tutorials.

        • Matthew Woodward
          December 14th, 2014 at 5:04 pm

          No I mean the internal linking here :)

  21. Bhargav

    Hi Matthew,

    First of all thank you for sharing such a nice resourceful guideline….. 1 thing i can say that… there are lot of good resource like your one but you have better point wise & structure wise presentation…..


    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Thanks Bhargav

  22. Oloyede Jamiu

    Hey Matt,

    Thank you for taking your time to compile this big list of google ranking factors.

    I have to bookmark this for further rereading and understanding.

    Take care and have a nice day ahead.

    Thank you.

    -Oloyede Jamiu

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Thanks Oloyede

  23. Steve

    So where does backlinks stands now? Suppose we follow everything mentioned above does this mean we will rank on the top positions or not?

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      They are still important, and no single thing on its own will rank you – it needs to be a combination of things. But not so long ago that wasn’t the case, all you needed was links

  24. Stefan

    Thanks for this Matt, good stuff.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      No problem Stefan

  25. Doug

    Great article Matt.

    I have a question for you relating to schema.org implementation… After implementing this on my site (and checking in WMT that it’s reading it correctly), within 48 hours I had dropped from #2 to #12 for a lucrative keyword, from #2 to #8 for another, and #21 to no where to be seen for a HUGE keyword that we were working on.

    The page had been rock solid for 2 years, and apart from the odd link here and there, it was just doing very well from on page SEO.

    From your guide here, and also other research – I can’t see anything conclusive about Scheme.org affecting rankings positively or negatively… Just improving visibility in the SERPs…

    My theories are:

    1) Coincidence… I don’t know how much you value the Mozcast temperature, but that jumped to 75 degrees… but none of the other SERPs were affected

    2) Although I implemented the dateModified attribute, the datePublished attribute was also added. As this article was, as I say, published nearly 2 years ago, the date has now appeared in the SERPs – so I’m wondering if that was the reason.

    Just wondering if you’ve seen anything similar on any of your sites? The site otherwise has almost perfect on page SEO, great interlinking etc


  26. Rajesh Jhamb

    This is called complete SEO Tutorial. We don’t need to go anywhere to find Google New Ranking Factors.

    This single post is more than enough for anybody whether the guy is newbie or pro.

    Thanks Sir. Waiting for your next article desperately

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      Enjoy =D

  27. Lee

    Hi Matthew – absolutely awesome post. Thank you!! There were a few holes in my knowledge and this has just filled them all in!

    I know this was a lot of work, but I can’t begin to tell you how much it’s appreciated!

    Minor point – tried getting access to your ‘Google Ranking Factor Cheat Sheet’ but the list of resources doesn’t seem to contain that. Or is it under a different title?

    Thanks again for all your hard work.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:28 pm


      They are on the resources page

  28. Tim

    That’s an incredible list Matt! I’ve never seen anything like it before! I’m now $50 poorer after extending one of my domains by 5 years, thanks! :-)

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Hahaha sorry about that :P

  29. SEO Hizmeti

    Hi Matt
    Just tell me how to Get Instant Access To The Google Ranking Factor Cheat Sheet Right Now!

    I’m already in your list and won’t except my email address because of in your list.
    Any solution?



    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      Look at the subscriber resources page

  30. AmmarZeb

    Wonderful guide Mathew. It was a bit long but didn’t feel bored or uninterested at all. The guie contained each and every aspect and you explained everything just perfectly.

    Thanks, Keep writing dude :)

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks glad you stuck around!

  31. Kulwant Nagi

    My goodness.

    How do you come up with such great ideas?

    A complete post on SEO I have ever read..

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      Just a natural follow up to the Bing post

  32. Sahil Garg

    hello matt
    this is great article up here. now i really believed why this blog is award winning. thanks lot for sharing such info here. some of these factors are so important to me in future.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 11th, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      No problem Sahil :)

  33. Paul

    “Facebook Shares

    It is generally thought that Google do not have access to Facebook’s data, but that is not true.
    The number of times your page/domain has been shared on Facebook has an impact on your rankings and is the most valuable Facebook signal.”

    This is absolutely not true, i have tested this many times and having likes does nothing for your rankings, social signals like shares and tweets are only good to justify your links (in theory) but as for ranking itself my conclusion is that it hasn’t any impact at all.

    But don’t believe me, go test it and you will see that i am right

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 12th, 2014 at 3:07 pm

      Hi Paul.

      I have heavily tested it and I revealed precisely how I have made over 6 figures with nothing but social signals this year at the BHW conference in Vegas last month.

  34. Jakob

    based on my experience (with 200 niche sites), there is no benefit in using EMD compared to a more generic domain.

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 12th, 2014 at 3:07 pm

      Great share thank you :)

  35. Monica Cadogan

    how can we disable the safe browsing thing so Google will not find out when we do SEO stuff for our website?

    • Matthew Woodward
      December 12th, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      Google it combined with your browser name

  36. Setianto

    Wow … interesting this article, complete. Made me linger here. It seems in need of a snack and a cup of coffee. I do not know many things in SEO is here … thumb

  37. Greg

    Hi Matt, a very useful resource, thank you! You mention that “I have used positive social velocity to bring Penguin penalised sites back to the #1 spot.” Do you have any articles or guides on this?

    • Matthew Woodward
      January 30th, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      I haven’t sorry =\

      • Marius
        February 26th, 2015 at 8:29 am

        Matt, maybe you can elaborate more then? :)

        • Matthew Woodward
          March 1st, 2015 at 11:37 am

          Just drip out retweets from quality accounts increasing in velocity over time to simulate ‘virality’

  38. Wahyu Awaludin

    Cool, Matthew?
    It’s awesome :)

    • Matthew Woodward
      February 2nd, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      Hope you liked it :)

  39. wilfred abicoco

    Thank you Matthew for this articles,it came when i needed it,i will try the above factors so i can rank better on Google. keep the articles coming.

    • Matthew Woodward
      February 21st, 2015 at 7:57 am

      I will do what I can :)

  40. Ian

    Not very often you see an article as comprehensive and informative as this.

    Solid information, really appreciate this Matthew, excellent work!

    • Matthew Woodward
      February 24th, 2015 at 9:23 am

      No problem glad you enjoyed it!

  41. Tim

    Hey, you say that “valid html code” isn’t a ranking factor, and while it may not be a “direct” ranking factor, it can have beneficial “secondary” factors like the page loads faster (as the HTML rendering engine in the browser doesn’t have to try to interpret what on earth that invalid code means), the page will display better across more devices and browsers (have you seen what invalid code does to IE, even the latest versions? It’s not good!) and this can lead to more social shares, more followers, more back links, reduced bounce rates, more return visitors, etc.

    For me, NOT validating my HTML, CSS and JS is just being lazy and stupid, it’s not rocket science. Remember, it’s the little things that quickly add up to make big differences!

    • Matthew Woodward
      February 24th, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Yes that is true however there is a difference between code validation and cross platform testing. A fully validated website can load incorrectly cross platform and a website that doesn’t validate can load perfectly cross platform.

      • Tim
        February 24th, 2015 at 11:32 am

        >> A fully validated website can load incorrectly cross platform and a website that doesn’t validate can load perfectly cross platform.
        True. But that is much much less likely to happen if the code is valid. My point was having HTML code that validates can lead to “secondary” ranking benefits.

        Anyway, enough of picking the finer points out of my point. I thought it was a really good article. Thanks.

        • Matthew Woodward
          February 24th, 2015 at 8:27 pm

          Yes I agree although my bias comes from the basis of never having ranked a validated website in my life and I’ve ranked a bunch – and the Google homepage doesn’t validate so you know :)

          If I recall correctly the reason they gave for it not validating was to make it cross device compatible in an ever changing landscape of phones, tablets, laptops and TV’s.

  42. Angelica

    Hi Matt, This is my first time commenting, but I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now. I’m currently preparing to launch my own Zero Backlink Experiment, but after reading up a bit on reciprocal links something is kind of bothering me.

    I plan on promoting my site via forum and I’ve picked out four that are hot spots of activity where my audience is very active. I know they’ll be great for getting my name out there and establishing myself as an authority and a simple link to my site in my signature should provide the initial traffic that I need. However…

    These sites aren’t just forums and are attached to websites. I’ll be frequently linking to a lot of the content on the websites. Basically, they have products available for users and my site focuses on helping users get the products working properly (that’s just a rough idea there’s a bit more to it than that).

    So I’m kind of concerned that google will see the incoming links from the sites and my own outgoing links to the same sites and penalize me for them. Do you think this is the case or am I worrying too much?

    • Matthew Woodward
      February 26th, 2015 at 7:51 am

      I wouldn’t worry about it at all

  43. George Papatheodorou

    I’ve been following you for a couple of months now but this is my first time commenting on a blog post. This is a really good guide and can bring you really high on SERPs. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. Keep up the good work. Already bookmarked for future reference ;)

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 1st, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Thanks for jumping in :) Don’t be shy =D

  44. Rohit Singh

    Thanks matthew for this wonderful list and I wonder what are the top 10 ranking factors which we must give the most importance to

  45. Douglas

    This is one of the best resources I have found in quite some time. Nicely written and great info. I really cannot thank you enough for sharing.

    • Matthew Woodward
      September 21st, 2015 at 9:48 am

      No problem Douglas :)

  46. atrbazar

    that was great but i think that was so general.
    i think u should explain with real examples.
    thanks a lot
    i love your sharings.

  47. MTAIndia

    Wow !! very nice information you have shared here. Thanks a lots. Keep it up !!

    • Matthew Woodward
      January 6th, 2016 at 10:36 am

      No problem :)

  48. Melissa

    This article has been unbelievably helpful. This would be great to print out and have next to me while developing a new website.

    • Matthew Woodward
      January 19th, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Glad to be of service :)

  49. Sajjad Rezaei

    so informative post
    I think i can use this for my website

    • Matthew Woodward
      February 8th, 2016 at 9:52 am

      No problem :)

  50. moumita

    my domain was live for 6 months then it was parked for a month . After a month I again made it live.

    Will it effect my domain visibility in search engines?

    does it have any negative seo effect?

    • Matthew Woodward
      August 1st, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Yes it will affect you short time but once you put the site live again and continue to grow it won’t be a problem

      • moumita
        August 1st, 2016 at 11:00 pm

        Thank you so much for the reply

  51. Felix

    Nice post. Here is another similar resource to yours, just broken down by whether the factors are concrete, myths, or somewhere in the middle. https://northcutt.com/wr/google-ranking-factors/

    • Matthew Woodward
      August 9th, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Great additional resource thanks!

  52. Munna Hossain

    This is really a great article. We know that google page rank is the most important factor for any blog or website. We are really crazy to increase our page rank. But we need to follow some tricks to rank higher on google. You have shared such an informative article that will must be helpful for all the bloggers. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  53. pcmate

    Hi there Mathew,

    For every blogger google ranking factors are the most crowd talked thing right? We try to determine it’s factors righty?

    Truth to be spoken you have covered most of them here, I congratulate you about this article.\


    Clay Smith.

    • Matthew Woodward
      November 3rd, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Thanks Clay :)

  54. Chota bheem

    Thanks for sharing this information, if anyone want to be on top of search results, they have to provide relevant information to the audience. This is for sure.

    • Matthew Woodward
      January 20th, 2017 at 9:45 am

      And not just relevant information, but the best information :)

  55. Ryan Burchey

    Hi Matt, I just wanted to give you a big thank you for taking the time :)
    Hope you have a great day,

    • Matthew Woodward
      February 25th, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks Ryan, no problem!

  56. Alice

    Hi! Really really nice article. Some people say that longer articles are better for SEO, while others think that people don’t have patience anymore and prefer shorter pieces. What do you think about that?

    • Matthew Woodward
      April 14th, 2017 at 7:28 pm

      I think there is a balance in everything and not a right or wrong answer to the question

  57. Robert

    Thanks matthew for this amazing information.

    • Matthew Woodward
      July 19th, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      No problem Robert!

  58. Zayn

    Brilliant Article which covers almost all the aspects of seo

    • Matthew Woodward
      April 3rd, 2018 at 8:02 am

      Cheers Zayn

  59. Sharjeel Tahir

    Hi Matthew

    Following your blog posts couple of days and honestly saying your guides helped a lot. Like above Kulwant said how you come up with great new tips and guides is truly amazing.

    Well from the last couple of days thinking to shift my blog to SSL https but as you said a minor ranking factor so I ll plan to do this later.

    Thanks again :)

    • Matthew Woodward
      April 3rd, 2018 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Sharjeel, glad to have helped

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    • Matthew Woodward
      April 3rd, 2018 at 11:41 am

      Yes for sure

  61. tony alonso

    thanks for write great article. i have questions: how to rank website in google.co.uk? please let me know, thanks

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