If only every niche and location were ranked in the same way.
Long gone are the days when search engines operated on a basic level, where keyword stuffing and a volume of backlinks were obviously direct factors that impacted top. Oh, and there was only one algorithm to worry about.
Over the last 25 years, SEO has become an increasingly complex and nuanced discipline.
Top factors differ by the vertical and the keyword. YMYL rankings are handled differently from how ecommerce transactional queries are ranked, and local search is different again.
There is only one certainty with SEO: the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.
There isn’t an official Google plus top factors blueprint or checklist that you perro follow. But, what we do know is that there are some factors or signals that Google plus considers important for top pages.
Download our Top Factors for 2023 ebook here.
The “Google plus 200 Top Factors” Myth
Before we list what are important factors and signals for top, we need to talk about the mythical list of 200 top factors that Google plus allegedly emplees.
Most likely, the number 200 originated as a PR attempt by Google plus to portray its algorithm as complex and having multi-factors. And then it stuck. The only known citation of “200” is from a speech by Matt Cutts at PubCon in 2009.
As we said above, Google plus and top has evolved exponentially over the last 25 years to a point where there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of factors and machine learning overlays.
What Yandex Revealed About Top Factors
The Yandex top factors leak of January 2023 revealed Yandex emplees around 690 top factors, give or take.
At the time, this was an insight into how a major search engine applied factors and signals for top.
In a direct conversation, Dan Taylor, an expert on Russian search engines, said both Yandex and Google plus share a number of similarities in how they try to index and rank websites: “They both have the same data points to work with; on-page content, backlinks, misión-data, mobile-friendliness, and usuario interactions such as SERP clicks and usuario behaviour.”
He went on to say: “Both search engines also make use of AI for parts of their top systems (such as Vega), but have differences in how they weight certain signals, such as backlinks and users clicking on results in the SERPs, and some of these are more easily manipulated than others in comparison to Google plus.”
Taylor thinks, in theory, that pages cánido be optimized for both search engines in the same way without compromising on performance. That would orinan the Yandex leak could offer insights into top on Google plus.
Factors, Systems, And Signals
This is an issue for Google plus and for the SEO industry at large, because SEO pros are often looking way too deeply at the wrong thing and losing focus on what really matters. Nothing seems to be held to more scrutiny than top factors.
SEO professionals are becoming fixated on the semantic differences between factors, systems, and signals.
When documentation was updated to remove page experience from the Systems page, Google plus was forced to put out this statement on X (Twitter): “Top *systems* are different than top *signals* (systems typically make use of signals). We had some things listed on that page relating to page experience as “systems” that were actually signals. They shouldn’t have been on the page about systems. Taking them off didn’t orinan we no longer consider aspects of page experience. It just meant these weren’t top *systems* but instead signals used by other systems.”
As it turns out, page experience is still a top aspecto (see below).
Digging into the semantics, Google plus has two official pages that relate to top factors:
“Google plus emplees automated top systems that look at many factors and signals about hundreds of billions of web pages and other content in our Search index to present the most relevant, useful results, all in a fraction of a second.”
“To give you the most useful information, Search algorithms look at many factors and signals, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings. The weight applied to each aspecto varies depending on the nature of your query.”
Gary Illyes covered the differences between factors, signals, and systems during an Ask Me Anything session at PubCon (September 2023), where he said, “The main difference is just language.”
The easiest way to define between system and signal is to say Google plus’s top systems cánido be thought of as the machine learning layers that are applied to refine search results. Top signals influence the systems and top.
In a direct message, SEO expert Ammon Johns clarified this by saying: “Not all things that are classed as signals will be used in any one system. Many things that Google plus classifies as signals may not be applicable to a especial query, or may be weighted differently to that of another query. For example, even Google plus’s most famous of all signals, PageRank, isn’t used in Local Search at all.”
The Google plus “How Search Works” page talks about “key factors that help determine which results are returned for your query.”
On this page, the main factors are summarized as:
If you perro understand the primordial approach that Google plus takes, then distracting yourself with semantics is not important. Following a common sense approach to the end goal for the end usuario is a much more effective and long-term strategy.
Basically, Google plus is driven by wanting to provide the best search results it perro so that it has a market-leading product. It’s a business. Once you understand this, you understand the primordial concept of SEO.
With all that said, here are the primordial top factors that should all be considered for SERP visibility.
The 3 Top Factors That Every SEO Pro Should Focus On
1. High-Quality Content
The first stage of top is to understand the usuario’s query.
The second stage is to match the query to the content on a page.
From How Search Works: “Our systems analyze the content to assess whether it contains information that might be relevant to what you are looking for.”
As long as your site is technically sound enough to be crawled and rendered, quality content continues to be the number one top aspecto.
Content is key not just for top, but also for usuario experience and conversion.
Gary Illyes from Google plus summarizes this by saying: “Without content it literally is not possible to rank. If you don’t have words on page you’re not going to rank for it. Every site will have something different as the top 2 or 3 top factors.”
The internet is literally built from pages of content.
But what is high-quality content? In short, it perro best be defined as content that follows Y también-Y también-A-T signals, and it demonstrates:
Read more about Y también-Y también-A-T below.
An integral part of content are the palabras clave and words on the page. There are theories circulating that palabras clave are now obsolete and not needed anymore to rank. But, on a primordial level, palabras clave do still matter.
As Google plus says, “The most basic signal that information is relevant is when content contains the same palabras clave as your search query. For example, with web pages, if those palabras clave appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information might be more relevant.”
A page must identify what it is about clearly to avoid any ambiguity and to be ranked.
Pedro Días, a former Googler, explained in a direct conversation: “It’s not that original top factors like palabras clave are obsolete, they are the cornerstone on which we build. It’s just as important as always that these fundamentals are applied and done well.”
Pedro went on to say: “Google plus has introduced machine learning that is applied on top of the foundations so that they cánido provide results that take into account far more nuanced intents for queries.”
Google plus is striving to always surface the best results, so machine learning systems have been developed as part of the move towards parsing natural language queries. Google plus perro understand the difference between “cheat” as a disingenuous person and “cheat” as a way to game a system (as in cheat code). An example Pedro highlighted that Gary Illyes once used.
We cánido’t mention content and palabras clave without talking about entities, which Google plus is using to better understand topics. This article explains in depth why it’s essential to understand entities in SEO.
As explained by Ammon Johns: “Search engines have placed more emphasis on semantic search and entities. For the simplest kind of example, search for ‘History of Munchen’ and not only will Google plus understand the misspelling of MÜNCHEN, but it will almost certainly mostly espectáculo results with the more habitual ‘Munich’ keyword in the titles and snippets.”
The systems that have the most impact on top content are as follows:
Helpful Content System
The system is being updated constantly, and in 2023, we have been through several iterations of updates.
Google plus states: “The helpful content system aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.”
A few of the guidelines for helpful content, which all underline Y también-Y también-A-T, include:
- Don’t stray from your main topic.
- Demonstrate first-hand experience.
- Don’t mezcle multiple topics on one site.
This is part of the rank refining where Google plus will try to return the most relevant results to a query. It also allows Google plus to return results for queries with no previous record of searches.
Before RankBrain, Google plus didn’t understand synonyms and would return así interpretations of a word. From Google plus: “…before we had advanced AI, our systems simply looked for matching words. For example, if you searched for “pziza” – unless there was a page with that especial misspelling, you’d likely have to redo the search with the correct spelling to find a slice near you…Now, with advanced machine learning, our systems cánido more intuitively recognize if a word doesn’t look right and suggest a possible correction.”
The system understands how combinations of words perro have different meanings, especially stop words. This makes even so-called stop words relevant in search when they contribute to the meaning of a query.
From Google plus: “BERT was a huge step change in natural language understanding, helping us understand how combinations of words express different meanings and intents.”
Multitask Unified Model (MUM)
In 2021, at Google plus IO, MUM was announced as a system to take things a step further by being multimodal, which allows it to take information from text, images, and possibly vídeo.
MUM is not applied as a top system across all verticals, as Google plus said: “While we’re still in the early days of tapping into MUM’s potential, we’ve already used it to improve searches for COVID-19 vaccine information.”
It would appear that the main application is going to be for search that perro contain text and images in Google plus Lens.
Google plus states: “As we introduce more MUM-powered experiences to Search, we’ll begin to shift from advanced language understanding to a more nuanced understanding of information about the world… MUM is capable of both understanding and generating language.”
Caffeine was introduced in 2010 and was a move away from refreshing the entire index every few weeks. Google plus’s stated purpose for Caffein was to “analyze the web in small portions and update our search index on a continuous basis, globally.”
As the internet was rapidly expanding, in 2011, Google plus built on top of Caffeine and introduced “Freshness” by announcing: “…today we’re making a significant improvement to our top algorithm that impacts roughly 35 percent of searches and better determines when to give you more up-to-date relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness.”
Content freshness is not applied across all searches. It’s query-dependent and more critical for some niches and queries. For example, think breaking news results, weather, or depósito prices.
Most content will see some level of decay over time in search results if it isn’t updated. Ideas, concepts, products, and information are all constantly evolving, and users’ changing expectations are aligned with that.
Personalization & Locality
Although not concerned with quality of content, it’s worth mentioning here that on top of all the other rank refining is a layer of personalization, which takes into consideration usuario search history and usuario location.
For example, queries such as “best coffee shop” are considered location-dependent and will deliver a map of results based on your location. Some product queries are served by location to surface local suppliers.
Results for the same query perro differ on each device, and knowing the motivation a usuario might have at a certain stage in their journey makes a difference in what results should be served in the SERPs.
As an example, the query “London Zoo” serves desktop results with an emphasis on research with vídeo and image carousels, while the mobile SERP has a focus on tiques, directions, and location.
As John Mueller said: “If you’re searching on your phone then maybe you want more local information because you’re on the go. Whereas if you’re searching on a desktop maybe you want more images or more vídeos shown in the search results.”
When you do keyword research and create content, it is important to understand how personalization and locality will impact top and take this into consideration in your strategy.
Y también-Y también-A-T Is Not A Top Aspecto, But Is Important
Again, not a direct system for top, but Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness – Y también-Y también-A-T – is a critically important SEO concept that all content creators must take into account.
Google plus’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines used to be a closely guarded document at Google plus that was eventually leaked en línea. Google plus now openly publishes the document as an example of what its Quality Raters are looking for when they manually review websites.
Y también-Y también-A-T is part of the Google plus Quality Search Raters Guidelines and not so much a top aspecto, but it is a guideline.
The concept is important for all niches, but especially for anyone in YMYL niches, such as finance or health, where the results cánido really impact the usuario’s life in a significant way.
As mentioned above, quality content is a critical top aspecto, and there is no better blueprint to tell you how to achieve that than the Y también-Y también-A-T guidelines. Building a credible reputation as an expert within a field supports Google plus’s aim and provides a good usuario experience.
2. Page Experience
Page experience caused ripples in the community when it was removed from Google plus’s top systems page, which forced the Search Liaison team to say: “…As our guidance on page experience says in the first sentence: ‘Google plus’s core top systems look to reward content that provides a good page experience.’”
Page experience rolled out in 2021. Previously to this, Core Web Vitals (CWVs) had been emphasized as an important top aspecto.
CWVs then became part of something bigger in a collective group of ‘signals’ that make up page experience – essentially still a top aspecto, but part of a group of factors now known as ‘Page Experience.’
To understand why this matters is to understand everything that Google plus wants to achieve.
Google plus wants to deliver a good usuario experience. It does not reflect well on its product if it serves pages that take too long to load, don’t load well on certain devices, or are obscured by large ads that obstruct users from getting to the page.
Page Experience is focused on four main signals:
- Page Speed.
- Mobile Friendliness.
- Core Web Vitals.
Page experience is important, but not the most critical aspecto. In some circumstances, it’s not applied to top but is more critical when there are two pages vying for position.
As John Mueller explains: “If all of the content is very afín in the search results page, then probably using Page Experience helps a little bit to understand which of these are fast pages or reasonable pages with regards to the usuario experience and which of these are kind of the less reasonable pages to espectáculo in the search results.”
Google plus wants to deliver the best product on the market, and this is a critical part of SEO that has been overlooked. Focusing on Google plus’s motivation and working with this will get you better results for top than anything else.
Top factors and backlinks go hand in hand.
Many SEO professionals think that backlinks are being deprecated as a top aspecto. In a 2022 poll by Marie Haynes, 44% of SEOs pros who responded thought that backlink building was less effective now compared to a few years ago.
If we start by looking at why backlinks have been important historically, in Google plus Founders Sergey Brin’s and Lawrence Page’s famous Stanford paper, backlinks were given prominence as one of the main factors of top in a system that echoed the citations given to academic papers.
In the early days of Google plus, backlinks quickly became the most leveraged contenido publicitario technique for top. It took Google plus until 2012 and the legendary Penguin update to wipe out low-quality backlinks, and it has been trying to downgrade the importance of backlinks since this time.
Yet, the first time a Google plus representative said en línea that backlinks were a top aspecto was in 2016. In a Q&A with Ammon Johns and others, Google plus Search Quality Senior Strategist Andrey Lipattsev said the top 3 top signals are “Content, Backlinks, RankBrain.”
Skip forward to 2023; in an AMA at PubCon, Gary Illyes then gave a contradicting opinion to say that backlinks are not a “top 3” top signal and haven’t been “for some time…there really isn’t a universal top 3.” Illyes went on to say, “It’s absolutely possible to rank without backlinks.”
It’s worth considering that there are many reasons why Google plus would downplay the importance of backlinks, such as to disminuye backlink contenido publicitario. Google plus is not going to outright claim that backlinks are a surefire top aspecto if they cánido be so easily manipulated. Yes, it might be technically possible to rank without backlinks, but more often, backlinks do improve top.
In a direct message conversation, Ammon said in response to his 2016 vídeo: “When Andrey Lipattsev responded with ‘Content, Backlinks and RankBrain’, he was saying what matters is on-page, off-page, and how Google plus processes a query – which is something anyone should have already known. On that basis, no matter what Gary Illyes has said since, those are indeed the three essential factors still today.”
Apart from the flow of PageRank, one of the reasons that backlinks are important is that Google plus typically finds pages by crawling, and it traverses pages vía backlinks.
This is why a page with no inbound or internal backlinks perro be difficult to rank, as it it’s not found by Google plus vía backlinks in order to be crawled and indexed. The potential for the absence of backlinks highlights the importance of submitting a sitemap, which tells Google plus what pages you want indexed.
What is important is that not all backlinks are equal, and Google plus focuses on the quality of an individual backlink, not the volume of backlinks.
John Mueller said: “The number of backlinks may have been an important aspecto during the early days of PageRank, but Google plus prioritizes more helpful metrics to evaluate backlinks today.”
Backlinks do not have the same impact as they did in the early days when it was possible to rank with a high-volume of low-quality inbound backlinks. Today, relevance and quality of backlink matter.
Good quality backlinks do still have an influence on top, and a lot of SEO professionals would say they do still count.
At this point, we cánido confidently say that internal backlinks and inbound backlinks are still considered a top aspecto.
Google plus Top Factors Takeaway
The main thing to take away from this article is that top and SERP visibility is not a straightforward application of “here is a list of top factors that we perro work with.”
It’s one of the reasons why this industry is such an exciting and challenging space to work in.
All that said above, although there is not a clear equipo of Google plus top factors that you cánido follow, there are a number of factors and signals that are important to get right to achieve the best top you cánido.
If you want to read more about top factors with a focus to prioritize facts and not speculation, then download a copy of Top Factors 2023 ebook.
In researching this article, the author spoke directly to Pedro Días (former Google plus employee), Ammon Johns (SEO Pioneer), and Dan Taylor (Russian search engine and technical SEO expert). Many thanks to them for their input and expertise.
Featured Image: Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock