Top Google Ranking Factors Revealed in a Backlinko Study

Last Updated: April 23, 2023By

Search engine ranking is one major determinant of website success that webmasters should take very seriously. However, due to frequent changes in ranking factors and algorithm updates, it is good to always keep up with what is a ranking factor and what isn[t a ranking factor in search engines. Here are the latest thoughts by industry experts on search ranking factors and particularly Google Ranking Factors as revealed in a Backlinko study.

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Content Quality

Content is king, that should be a very familiar slogan for everyone that builds a website for SEO. Of course, it is true. Google continues to enhance the quality of its search engine by indexing more good quality content to present to searchers. If you are able to provide that good quality content that is valuable and unique, Google will always thank you with a higher ranking as your reward.

So how does Google judge quality content? Here is a quick guide provided by Google itself.

Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines

Google has quality guidelines. Most focus on the negative signals than the positive signals. That actually tells you that one way to impress Google is not to do the wrong things. It is better you don’t do anything than doing what Google hates and incurring a penalty.

Basic principles

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

Specific guidelines

Avoid the following techniques:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with little or no original content
  • Cloaking
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Hidden text or links
  • Doorway pages
  • Scraped content
  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans or other badware
  • Abusing rich snippets markup
  • Sending automated queries to Google

Follow good practices like these:

  • Monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as soon as it appears
  • Preventing and removing user-generated spam on your site

These are basic rules that can be helpful. You will find that the way to impress Google is not just to dish out content but to provide useful content that helps to improve its search results quality. Google wants users of its search engine to see its results to be of best quality and so will display only results that impresses its users.

Links Building is One Very Most Important Signal

Eric Enge noted in a post that he participated in a Hangout with Google’s Andrey Lippatsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist, who was asked about the top 3 ranking signals, noting that RankBrain was announced as the third most important. Lippatesev answered:

I can tell you what they are. It’s content and links going into your site.

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When you aren’t facing page relevance or quality issues, links can, and do, continue to significantly impact rankings.

Backlinks remain an extremely important Google ranking factor, said Brian Dean founder of Backlinko in a recent blog post on Google Ranking Factors. We found the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.

Links are seen as an endorsement for your website especially when it comes from a high authority website. The more quality links you get, the better for your website and the more likely it will rank in the search engines. That does not mean you should go after building links aggressively. Such link building endeavours will be seen by the search engines as an attempt to manipulate its outcomes and Google frowns seriously at that.

Here are a couple of link building methods that will enhance your rankings.

How Best to Build Links:

There are three core attributes of quality backlinks. Quality backlinks are rated by Google based on these three factors. They should be:

  • Reputable
  • Relevant
  • Natural

Let’s explain these three elements a bit.

What is a Reputable Backlink?

Google has dedicated its PageRank algorithm to measure the reputation of websites. PageRank measures this by the amount of backlinks to a website with the presumption that the more reputable website will get more backlinks. Google puts it like this:

PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.

In effect, the higher the number of quality backlinks a website gets, the higher it can rank in the search engines for the competitive keywords.


Quality baclinks are assessed on the basis of its relevance to the search query What search engines do is to review the relevancy of both the page and domain of a backlink. For example, if this post is linked in an article on a news website covering a world cup event, it can get a link to a high domain authority website but lacking relevance. If it is linked on the technology section of same website in an article on search engine optimization or website quality, it would have gained a relevant backlink.


Natural backlinks are seen within the context of the value it adds o the post and how it help readers get more information on the subject matter. Backlinks should not come because you have been paid to create the link. It should come because it is relevant to the discussion and adds value to the subject under discussion.

Also read: 10 Costly Search Engine Mistakes to be Avoided

RankBrain – Third Most Important Factor

Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand wrote an interesting piece on how RankBrain has now become the third most important ranking factor behind content and links. According to a report onBackChannel RankBrain is being used on almost ALL search queries helping determine the most relevant results and their order:

Google is characteristically getting more difficult to perceive clearly or understand and explain precisely, indistinct or vague.on exactly how it improves search (something to do with the long tail? Better interpretation of ambiguous requests?) but Jeff Dean says that RankBrain is involved in every query, and affects the actual rankings probably not in every query but in a lot of queries. What’s more, it’s hugely effective. Of the hundreds of signals Google search uses when it calculates its rankings (a signal might be the user’s geographical location, or whether the headline on a page matches the text in the query).

Click-Through Rate (CTR) is Not a Ranking Factor

We can establish that CTR is not a direct ranking signal for Google. At the same time, it can have an indirect effect, said Eric Enge in a recent video they posted on their marketing website Stone Temple Consulting. Lots of people clicking on a certain result might indicate a real interest in it, and that might mean it’s a better result than the result above it. Notice I said “might”. That will be important later. Anyway, many people have assumed that search engines like Google would use such a signal, of course, bouncing it off against other signals that it uses in ranking.

So with that answer, one wonders why isn’t then CTR a ranking signal? Primarily because Google has told us they don’t, commented Enge. He noted that it’s simply too easy to game and that it doesn’t necessarily mean the user was satisfied with the result. Google uses it internally for studying search behavior but it is not a ranking signal. He provided this chart in a recent blog post. Enge wrote another article about CTR as a (non) ranking factor.

Google Confirms 301, 302, 3xx redirects Do Not Lose PageRank Value

30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore, Google’s Gary Illyes said in a tweet. Eric Enge asked Illyes in a Twitter reply if the redirects are not even a dampening factor? Illyes replied, @stonetemple for PageRank, no.

Local Business Ranking Factors

According to a Quantitative Local Search Ranking Factors Study: If you want your business to rank better in local search results, focus on building popularity for your business, as the results of the study indicate that business popularity seems to outweigh all other factors, most importantly in the form of reviews and quality backlinks to your site. Google Review and Profile View are by far the two most important local business ranking factors.

Dan Leibson, Vice President of Local Product at Local SEO Guide, made a presentation on this study at SMX Advanced in 2016.

Mobile-Friendliness – a Ranking Signal on Mobile Searches

Google has started using mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile searches, said Klemen Kloboves, a software engineer at Google, in a Google Webmaster blog post. Today mobile frienliness is gaining more prominence in ranking websites with updates rolling out to the mobile search results that increases the effect of the ranking signal to help users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly.

We can state that there is a strong correlation between mobile friendliness and website ranking. So if you rank better in the Google search engine, you should ensure that all your pages are mobile friendly.

Google Now Ranks Mobile Page Speed Separately

Jennifer Slegg of The SEM Post noted that Illyes mention of this at Search Marketing Summit Sydney was the first time that Google confirmed that it indeed plans to make page speed a factor in its next mobile friendly update. Illyes told Jennnifer that the update will be in a matter of months. Illyes has been hinting at mobile friendly sites ranking higher for months.

Today, page speed play a more profound role in determining how websites rank and we recommend that you take speed optimization very seriously.

There are some quick fixes that can improve your website speed and eventual rankking. Yslow recommends that to boost your page speed, you have to improve performance in 23 key areas:

  1. Minimize HTTP Requests
  2. Use a Content Delivery Network
  3. Avoid empty src or href
  4. Add an Expires or a Cache-Control Header
  5. Gzip Components
  6. Put StyleSheets at the Top
  7. Put Scripts at the Bottom
  8. Avoid CSS Expressions
  9. Make JavaScript and CSS External
  10. Reduce DNS Lookups
  11. Minify JavaScript and CSS
  12. Avoid Redirects
  13. Remove Duplicate Scripts
  14. Configure ETags
  15. Make AJAX Cacheable
  16. Use GET for AJAX Requests
  17. Reduce the Number of DOM Elements
  18. No 404s
  19. Reduce Cookie Size
  20. Use Cookie-Free Domains for Components
  21. Avoid Filters
  22. Do Not Scale Images in HTML

Google Updates Search Quality Guidelines

We recently completed a major revision of our rater guidelines to adapt to this mobile world, recognizing that people use search differently when they carry internet-connected devices with them all the time, said Mimi Underwood, Sr. Program Manager of Google Search Growth Analysis.

More Causes for Lower Ranking

Enge also says that there are other factors contributing to less appearance of a site on the first page of a Google search result, which is in effect a lower ranking:

  • More real estate allocated to paid search
  • More content from other sources, such as image search, YouTube, and the other factors I mentioned above
  • Some pages that have less than 10 web results
  • Portions of the web results that are clearly less driven by links, such as local web, query deserves diversity, and in-depth article results

Backlinko Study

The Backlinko Study is unbelievably helpful in understanding all ranking factors, not just the new ones that happened in 2016. Backlinko analyzed 1 million Google search results to answer the question: Which factors correlate with first page search engine rankings?

Backlinko identified 11 main ranking factors that we’ve summarized below:

  • Backlinks are still the number one factor in determining search ranking.
  • Site Authority correlates to ranking.
  • Tightly focused content ranks better.
  • Longer content ranks higher.
  • Sites using HTTPS do better than equal sites using HTTP.
  • Schema markup doesn’t help.
  • An image in content raises ranking.
  • Small correlation with title tag keyword optimization and ranking.
  • Speed is now a huge ranking signal. It matters a lot.
  • Exact match anchor text has a strong influence.
  • Low bounce rate improves ranking.

Did we miss anything?  Do let us know in the comments box below.

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