7 Google Ranking Factors You Really Need and How They Affect SEO In 2022
SEO requirements change every time Google releases an update—making the Google-ranking factor impossible to track. Several online articles have claimed Google ranks content based on 200 factors—but Google hasn’t confirmed this—yet.
Meanwhile, instead of boring you with a long list of ranking factors no one knows, here are the 7 ranking factors confirmed by Google and how they all affect SEO in 2022.
The 7 Most Important Google Ranking Factors
Let’s dive in!
1. Search Intent
Search Intent or user intent is the purpose of a user’s search online.
The intent behind every search on Google is divided into 4 categories depending on the searcher.
- Informational Intent
- Navigational Intent
- Transactional Intent
- Commercial Intent
Google aims to display matching content with the searcher’s intent. So let’s explore each one and how they contribute to the SEO process.
Users with informational intent want answers to a specific question.
The queries that come with this intent include: “what is,” “how-to,” “where-is,” “how do,” and many other question-like or interrogative queries.
One thing to note: searchers here have no specific website at the time of search and aren’t concerned about from which website the answer is coming.
Also, the typical behavior with searchers with this intent is they’ll likely only engage with the content shown on the top-ranking page. For most, the answer to the question will be delivered without searchers necessarily having to click to find out—unless they’re not satisfied with the response.
Here’s an excellent example with the question, “What is the difference between weather and climate?”
Other queries follow the same pattern as the answers shown in Google’s featured snippets.
Suppose your website revolves around providing searchers with informational intent. The best thing to do is structure your answers in a direct, simple way that answers the question right away.
Below are 3 to optimize your informational content for better ranking:
- Include searcher’s queries in HTML header tags (<h1> and <h2>)
- Include main keywords in both header and answer.
- Give direct and understandable answers.
Here’s how this works:
<h1> What is the difference between weather and climate?</h1>
<p>Weather refers to short-term atmospheric conditions, while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a long period of time. Climate change refers to long-term changes.</p>
Doing this allows you to satisfy the searcher’s intent while improving your authority with Google.
Searchers with navigational intent have a specific destination in mind or expect from one particular website. It’s also challenging to divert searchers in this category from their goal in the search.
A uniting factor for navigational intent on SERPs is that branded keywords dominate. Spotify search on Google is an excellent example of navigational intent.
With “Spotify” being a branded keyword, it already depicts that the searcher knows what they’re looking for and won’t most likely opt for another option.
Common things you’ll see with navigational intent include knowledge cards, top stories, and the latest events—depending on the search.
Spotify, for example, shows this:
What differentiates navigational intent is that it’s focused solely on that “brand” and, in turn, uses it as its primary keyword during search.
Some other examples of navigational intent based on keywords include:
- “Google Docs”
- “Google Drive”
- “Apple Music”
A transactional intent implies the searcher is searching to purchase a product or service.
SERPs within this intent will mostly be e-commerce stores, with some directing to their landing pages or the product page.
An example of transactional intent is:
With the intent of purchasing a product, you get reviews, ratings, and everything you’ll need to support you in making the best decision.
For e-commerce businesses, their SEO focus will be ranking first on SERPs for searchers with transactional intent.
Considering that a lot of the searchers in this category will mostly click to find out more about the product they have in mind, here are a few things you should do.
- Keep a short conversion process.
- Implement clear CTA.
- Optimize for quality design of product pages.
- Improve page speed.
Searchers with commercial intent have the “transactional intent” but aren’t yet willing to make the conversion yet and still need persuasion. They often are in the investigation stage before purchase, and you can see this in their search queries.
A quick example of this query is:
This is a consideration stage for these searchers before committing to purchasing. It can be confusing differentiating transactional from commercial intent, but one indicator is the level of detail that goes into each search.
Here are 2 examples:
- (Buy iPhone 13 pro max) vs. (Camera review of Iphone13 pro max vs. iPhone 12.)
- (Hire a plumber near me) vs. (Best plumbers in Wisconsin.)
The most noticeable difference is the high level of detailed queries with commercial intent compared to transactional intent. Overall, the importance of search intent is to guide you in choosing your keywords and understanding the searcher’s goal.
If you’re picking a keyword and trying to rank for the wrong intent in your SEO process, you’ll be significantly affected, specifically with a high bounce rate. On the other hand, understanding searchers’ intent takes you a step closer to optimizing your overall content for SERPs.
2. Page Speed
Page Speed, also known as Page Load Time, is the time taken for your website to load.
The speed of web pages is aligned with Google’s plan to deliver content to users instantaneously.
Going far back as pre-2010, page speed wasn’t a big deal until Google announced its importance in searches.
The primary purpose of this switch was that users have a better experience when the website loads fast. Unfortunately, this announcement was only effective for desktop users, but that changed in 2018 when Google included mobile searches.
The premise of this update to include mobile was to improve the quality of pages displayed on SERPs. This then brought about valuable stats that influence your SEO — “if your website is slow, you’ll get a lower rank on SERPs.”
In other words, if you have an excellent website possibly showing up on SERP on the first page—but if you have poor page speed, the chances of bounces (users exiting the website) increase.
If your bounce rate is high, this sends a message to Google that users are not enjoying visiting your website, which drops you in your position on SERPs.
Authority in SEO is Google’s way of determining if a website is worthy of its position.
Every website launched and positioned to scale to the top on SERPs. Google analyzes its authority by identifying its age and content expertise (topic authority).
In a study by Ahrefs on how long it takes to rank on Google, they discovered that after analyzing 2 million keywords, the average top 10 ranking page is 2+ years old.
The graph shows that the average domain age of websites ranking #1 is close to 3 years old. And only 22% of websites created within the first year currently rank in the top 10.
In other words, Google prioritizes older websites, and your chances of seeing outstanding results within the first year of your website’s launch are low.
Further exploring Ahrefs’ study shows that only 5.7% of all studied pages ranked in the top 10 for at least 1 keyword within the first year.
In terms of your SEO, this doesn’t mean your website isn’t good enough, or you shouldn't do anything in the first year. Instead, you should prioritize building authority in your niche. This is proven in the study when websites with high domain ratings (DR) outperformed those with low domain ratings.
According to Tim Soulo, Ahrefs—
“By looking at this graph, you might think that, on average, it takes a page anywhere from 2-6 months to rank in Google’s top 10.
But that conclusion isn’t valid here because this data only represents the 5.7% of pages that were lucky enough to rank in the Top10 within a year—while almost 95% of all the pages we studied didn’t make it to the Top10 within that time frame.”
With domain age being a determining factor in domain authority, topic authority is next.
Topic authority, or in some way, content expertise, is Google's way of ranking website pages based on how authoritative its sources are. This makes sense considering users typing in their queries want responses from expert sources.
To assess a web page’s topic authority, Google released E-A-T in their Search Quality Rater Guidelines.
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
This means Google values websites that demonstrate expertise in a specific area or niche. By displaying such a level of knowledge, they build authority and trust from search engines and users.
Pro tip: Be consistent all-round with the content surrounding your website, e.g., content on men's healthcare, not general healthcare.
4. Linking Structure
For the Googlebot to successfully crawl and index any page on any website, it needs to understand its linking structure. The linking structure is how internal and external links to and from the content are used. The context, in this sense, helps Googlebot match queries with appropriate responses.
For instance, you run a music label. It would make sense in business and SEO to link to and from artists as opposed to, say, to health blogs. In addition, building a linking structure around your blog makes it easier to understand what your content is all about.
There are 3 different kinds of links to build your linking structure:
- Internal links
- Backlinks or Inbound links
- Outbound links
Internal Links are the fundamental core of on-page SEO aside from optimizing title tags and URLs.
Linking relevant pages within your content is the best way to practice internal linking. This helps Google understand the context of all your pages.
Below is a visual structure of how internal links work.
This structure stems from one of the best SEO practices utilizing the “topic cluster” model.
The method helps focus your content on a particular topic to make your pillar page. For example, say you’re creating a series of content around “Website Optimization.”
An “Ultimate Guide or Complete Guide On Website Optimization” is a good source for a pillar page.
From there, every other piece of content should cover subtopics relating to website optimization. In this case, topics like this would work—What is Time to First Byte (TTFB)?, 7 Ways Speed Up Your Shopify Website, How To Improve Your WordPress Website, etc.
These subtopics would link back to the main pillar page and vice versa.
Additionally, this is beneficial to users as they don’t have to worry about branching out of the content in which they’re engaged. Instead, they’re learning more about the content and related topics.
Backlinks or Inbound Links
Backlinks, also known as Inbound links, are links from an external website linking back to a page on your website. With backlinks, Google can determine how authoritative your page is.
A good example is from two scenarios.
- Getting a link from Semrush to your SEO cheat sheet guide.
- Getting a link from a fresh/low-quality random domain to your SEO cheat sheet guide.
By default, Google would respect your backlink from Semrush compared to that of a low-quality website.
On the other end, you should try as much as possible to avoid backlinks from low-quality sites as it’ll hurt your SEO performance.
Outbound links are links from your website to another website—the opposite of inbound links.
As much as it’ll be a good signal to Google that authoritative websites link back to you, you also send a great message when you link back to external websites in your niche.
These websites you link to should be in your niche to improve your overall SEO. There are two types of links to know about when linking out or getting backlinks from other websites.
- Nofollow links
- Dofollow links
These are links with a rel=”nofollow” HTML applied to them.
<a href=”http://www.website.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>
These links don't pass as a vote of confidence to the search signal and are indicated not to boost the page rank.
An example is when you get a link from Forbes to your article on “Sales prospecting,” and it’s tagged as “nofollow.” This wouldn’t improve your overall page rank, as Forbes is telling Google not to see their link as a vote of confidence on that page of your website. This goes both ways when you link out to other websites.
These are links with a rel=”dofollow” HTML applied to them.
<a href=”http://www.website.com/” rel=”dofollow”>Link Text</a>
With links like this, into and out of your website, it sends a signal to search engines to use it as an indicator in improving page rank.
For instance, you get a ”dofollow” link from Backlinko on your best SEO practices guide. This means to search engines that Backlinko passes a vote of confidence on your website as a good source and, as such, should impact your page rank—in this case, a positive boost to your SEO.
Overall, your linking structure is a massive part of your SEO strategy—the main one is the link’s relevance, and the other is the linking domain’s authority.
5. User Experience
This is the most important Google ranking factor for all websites. The idea is simple: “We want users to have a positive experience when they visit a website.” This is what brought about the RAIL model.
The RAIL model stands for Response Animation Idle Load, and it covers all possible interactions between the user and the web.
The RAIL model’s goal is to look at user experience as more of a journey with distinct interactions. For example, pop-up ads are a significant detriment to user experience as it disrupts the flow of reading patterns for most users, causing them to lose interest.
A shocking statistic to support this—you’re 279.64 times more likely to climb Mt.Everest than click on a banner ad.
Let’s compare two sites—one with ads and one without. The one without ads is more likely to outrank the website with ads even if its content is of lesser quality simply because it affects user experience.
Ads are one of several factors that could hinder an excellent user experience. Google’s Rankbrain identifies 3 user experience signals:
- Bounce rate
- Dwell time
Pogo-sticking occurs when users on a search engine visit several search results within the SERPs in order to find a fitting result for their search queries.
Let’s say you’re on Google looking at “best yoga poses for lower back pain.”
And you click on the first link (#1), but it’s not what you want, so you go back and click on the second link #2—but it’s still not what you want. After a while, you go back and find exactly what you want in the #3 link.
This is called “Pogo-sticking.” If lots of searchers are doing this and skipping the first 2 links, it tells Google, “these first 2 links are not giving users what they want, but the 3rd one is, let’s make a switch in positions.”
And that’s precisely what they’re going to do.
In short, Pogo-sticking is the EXACT signal that influences user experience while on your website.
Bounce rate is the percentage of users that visit your web page without taking any single action. Google defines it as “single-page sessions of users on a website,” i.e., users who visit your website and exit without visiting any other page.
For example, going with the same search query “best yoga poses for lower back pain,” let’s say after clicking the first link, you exit without clicking any other pages from that page.
The higher your bounce rate, the lower your rankings will be, and vice versa.
This can be caused by several things, including:
- Poor layout
- Bad web copy
- Excess redirects
- False content
Dwell time is the amount of time a search engine user spends on a web page from their query results before returning to the SERPs.
For example —
You type in “best yoga poses for lower back pain” and get a series of results.
After looking at the first result, you skimmed through and weren't interested— perhaps the layout, content, or design threw you off, so you went back to SERPs.
The total time spent in the first link was 10 seconds, so your dwell time is 10 seconds.
Now, you went back to the SERPs and clicked on the second link, but this time, you liked the content and perhaps everything about the website, and you stayed for 5 mins and 26 seconds before going back to SERPs.
Your dwell time for the second link is 5 mins 26 seconds.
Let’s say more people use the same timeframe for both links; this tells Google that the second link is more helpful compared to the second. And Google, the big guy, makes a change by pushing the second link to the #1 position.
The longer the dwell time, the better you’ll rank on SERPs, and vice versa.
User experience and its impact on SEO go a long way to be covered alone as a subtopic under the Google ranking factor. Nevertheless, user experience is an ever-improving factor for which you can’t use a one-method-fixes-all technique.
Constantly improving factors that could impact how users experience your website is an excellent way to stay on Google’s good side and keep your #1 position.
6. Mobile Experience
Back in July 2019, Google released “mobile-first” indexing, a way of indexing and ranking a website based on its mobile version. This means your website on mobile plays a significant role in determining if you’ll be getting enough traffic.
Here are some stats relating to why mobile experience is such a big deal:
- 79% of people say they are more likely to revisit and/or share a mobile site if it’s easy to use.
- 54.8% of the world’s web traffic is generated on mobile.
- The average time spent on mobile devices per day is 2 hours and 55 min.
- 69% of internet users prefer to conduct searches via their smartphones.
- More than 50% of people say they won’t purchase from a brand with a poorly designed website.
These stats indicate that if you want to improve your website position in 2022, you need to make your website mobile-friendly.
Starting September 2020, Google improved the mobile-indexing protocol as a core indexing factor.
According to this report, mobile-first indexing will become the due process for crawling and indexing websites.
An excellent way to optimize your website for mobile is to explore AMP (accelerated mobile pages). Using AMP format to build your web pages opens you to better engagements across different devices and flexible users with faster load time. Google launched AMP as an open-source project to help users create an optimized mobile experience.
Additionally, research from Chartbeat shows AMP sites load 4 times faster than standard web pages.
And the median AMP page load time from Google search is less than 0.5 seconds.
However, opting into AMP isn’t made mandatory by Google, but it’s a better option—nonetheless, ensure your web page is mobile-friendly.
7. HTTPS Website Security
Google announced in August of 2017 that the security of a website is a ranking signal.
Website security refers to the use of HTTPS in the web address of a domain. It tells users if a website is safe to visit and exchange personal information.
Although John Mueller says HTTPS is a lightweight ranking factor, its impact on users is not as light as you think.
When you visit a website without an SSL certificate, chrome automatically shows you that the website isn’t secure and advises you not to input your personal or sensitive information on that website.
Once this prompts a user, the probability of a bounce increases, and once people start bouncing from your website, Google will demote your web page.
The best way to solve this is by getting an SSL certificate for your domain and subdomains to avoid giving a bad impression to both users and search engines.
Side note: SSL certificate stands for Secure Sockets Layer certificate, and it’s a security protocol that creates an encrypted link between a web server and a web browser. This security layer takes HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure).
HTTPS is always preferred to HTTP by all browsers, users, and even search engines due to the layer of security it provides.
The concept surrounding Google ranking factors is based on matching the right content to the right query. If your content isn’t a fit for the searcher’s query, you can’t help anyone; so Google doesn’t want you up there.
Although there are over 200 ranking factors out there (actually, no one knows the exact number), the other factors you’ll encounter are based on the 7 mentioned here.
Here’s a summary of all 7 Google ranking factors and how they affect SEO in 2022:
- Write content based on the searcher’s intent.
- Work on your backend to improve your overall page speed.
- Use your content to build authority in your niche.
- Create a linking structure to help Googlebot crawl and index your website.
- Improve your overall on-page experience to help users enjoy your website.
- Adopt AMP to improve the mobile experience.
- Switch from HTTP to HTTPS to avoid a higher bounce rate.
And that’s all you need to kickstart your SEO journey in 2022. Be sure to check in regularly with all these ranking factors and keep improving.
If you enjoy this article, check our blog for other articles on improving your website for better conversions and traffic.
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