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Decoding Google Search and Ranking: Part 2 – Confirmed Ranking Signals

Understanding what factors are important to Google in determining which websites to rank at the top of the results are important for any search engine marketer. Last month we started a series of articles on Decoding Google Search and Ranking when we looked at the Power of Key Signals and Navboost. This month we consider the main ranking signals on Google that have been confirmed.

Many articles about Google’s ranking factors state there are about 200 variables that contribute to how a site will perform in the search results. Many of those include not only the confirmed factors but also ‘best practices’ and myths. Here we separate fact from fiction and view only those that are confirmed to impact the results in Google’s search engine, to varying degrees and in no particular order:

The quality of the content, including how directly it answers a question, can be vital to performance in the search results. The content on its own (and not just headings) is assessed separately by Google.

Keyword prominence
This is a factor (whereas keyword density or ‘stuffing’ isn’t). This is the location of the keyword, with the closer it being to the title or beginning of the text, the more prominent it is.

Headings, including H1s and H2s are ranking factors as they help Google understand the content on the page. So they should be clearly written and keyword-friendly.

Title tags
Optimising title tags can have a correlative increase with ranking, though they’re not nearly as critical as the rest of the content itself. (‘Keyword stuffing’ has to be avoided, as that’s a negative ranking factor).

Anchor text
Google has confirmed that they use concise anchor text (e.g: “SEO strategies” as the anchor text and not “click here”) in internal and external links to better understand what’s on your pages. This isn’t the strongest ranking factor on the list (especially after the Penguin update), but it can still help.

This is an AI system released in 2015 (and significantly updated in 2016) to integrate AI into search queries for improved results, which is particularly helpful for ambiguous queries or long-tail keywords. It’s a confirmed ranking factor, but there’s no clear or distinct way to intentionally optimise for it.

Page speed
This has been a factor since 2010 and it’s an important one. It also directly impacts the user experience, so site loading times need to be as quick as possible.

Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals assess a web page’s experience signals to evaluate how engaging the user experience is. It’s important to achieve a ‘good’ result in a website’s score for this when testing it with Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

This has been strengthening as a ranking signal for years. It’s particularly important for mobile search results, which have eclipsed desktop searches for some years now. Mobile responsive best practices and confirmed ranking signals overlap each other with this.

Secure search, or HTTPS (compared to HTTP) is an important part of a safe user experience, so this is a critical ranking factor.

Domain history
This matters, especially if a sketchy business was using the domain before to scam customers. Probably not relevant for most companies, but if you buy a domain that was previously being used then the issue will resolve itself over time, but it’s still better to use a ‘clean’ domain.

URLs are a minimal search ranking factor, which means that keywords in a URL are assessed when Google is crawling your site. Google has repeatedly stressed that this is not a ranking factor worth spending a lot of time on.

Physical proximity to the searcher
Google takes the physical closeness of the searcher into account when determining what results to show them, especially in local search. While the location of your business can’t be changed it’s important to ensure that all the business information (including location citations) are up-to-date and accurate.

Relevance, distance and prominence
These three signals determine the popularity and geographical closeness of a business along with how relevant it is to the specific search. They are each vital for local search results, so need to be taken into account when optimising a local business page (which also benefits from reviews).


You can read more about Google ranking signals.

Join us again next month when we continue the series with a look at the rumoured but unlikely ranking signals.

In the meantime, if you want to know how extensive knowledge of the confirmed Google ranking signals can help to improve your business’s search results, please get in touch.