Over the past couple of weeks I have scouted internet for answer to my sudden search traffic increase, then a drastic drop and then again going back to normal. While searching for the reason being Panda 2.0 or Penguin, I ran across various sites, pages and forums talking about 200 super secret Google signals that determines a search rank.
I will publish articles on how to determine if your site has been penalized by Google or not, and if it has which Google update was responsible for it. Let’s stick to the Factors that influence a Google search ranking here. Please keep in mind Google had never published a list and probably it never will.
Please remember that this list may not contain all 200 Google signals, and, they are only meant to rank content only pages. There are completely different signals Google use to rank products or other type of search results.
Search engine optimization professionals have employed various techniques ranging from statistical analysis of sample sites to interviewing past employees to find an answer and based on that guessed the signals to the best of their judgement.
Webmaster world forum had an interesting discussion around Google signals, Michael Crooper wanted to list out all the factors here. Here’s the SEO Moz survey result. One of the very good articles is here, but it’s 2007 article and with all changes over the years, this has become kind of obsolete. Here is Google’s own guidelines for webmasters, hence, it can be safely assumed that these are essential factors for search ranking.
Maximum weight :The maximum weight on search ranking is attributed to Searcher preferences and freshness of the article. Here are the major factors which has more influence than others.
- Date of publication, after Google freshness update. With all other scores being equal, freshest page will rank highest.
- Searcher preferences, explained below with the constituents.
- Article quality, which is determined by ratio of ‘size of the page’ and ‘average time spent’ by visitors. also the social share signal is one of the deciding factors for determining article quality. remember, we talked about the need to have a human-like intelligence in search engines? It’s coming people! Article quality factors are explained below separately.
- Page Rank, even though it carries less than 5% weight, this is still one of the largest deciding factors among 200 signals and their variances. Many of the below listed Google factors also determines PR of a page.
- Manual penalty, this can make your page vanish from the result, hence this is one of the major deciding factors. Manual penalty factors are also listed below.
- Type of search, certain searches only bring local result, some searches bring Google’s own result page. Searches with zip code added will give completely different result than searching without zip code. Over time this will assume greatest significance, after all, Google wants us to stay on Google. “Google Advisor” is one such example.
User preference will assume greatest significance in coming days for search ranking
Now I’ll take your through the other Google signals. Do remember these are highly speculative and without hard-proof.
Signals About Your Domain
- Age of Domain
- History of domain
- KWs in domain name
- Sub domain or root domain?
- Number of crawl errors and broken links in the domain
- TLD of Domain
- IP address of domain, and the searcher
- Location of IP address / Server
- History of 404 errors of the page
- Number of indexed pages on the domain
- Many believe ‘about’ information of the writer and contact information of domain owner are also important factors.
Site and Page Design
- HTML structure
- Use of Headers tags
- URL path
- Use of external CSS / JS files
- Page load time or page speed
- Contrast of background and font color
- Font used, in terms of relative scale of difficulty in reading. Google maintains an internal scale
- presence of Pop-up advertising/subscription window
- Above the fold code to text ratio
- Keyword density of page
- Ratio of ‘dofollow’ vs. ‘nofollow’ outbound link.
- Linking to authority sites, increase ‘quality’ scale.
- Keyword in Title Tag
- Keyword in Meta Description (Not Meta Keywords)
- Keyword in KW in header tags (H1, H2 etc)
- Keyword in body text
- Bold and italicized sentences, now a days the algorithm has been enhanced to put same emphasis to contrasting color text as that of text in header tags
- Update frequency of the content
Per Inbound Link
- Rank of website linking in
- Rank of web page linking in
- Age of website
- Age of web page
- Relevancy of page’s content
- Location of inbound link (Footer, Navigation, Body text, side bar, etc)
- Anchor text of the link
- Title attribute of the link
- Alt tag of images linking
- Authority of the linking domain (.edu, .gov has higher authority)
- Authority Linking sites (CNN, BBC, WSJ, FOX News, etc)
- Concentration of perfect match w.r.t close matches
Internal Cross Linking
- Number of internal links
- Location of link on linking page
- Anchor text of first text link
Search Initiator Factor
- Physical location of searcher
- Searcher Google account preferences and past search history
- Google plus social sharing
- Searcher’s Google reader subscription
- Social media shares
- Average time spent on the article
- Return visitor count within a short-span
- Click through rate of the article
This aspects re-adjust the final ranking your page, executes at the end in ranking process.
- Over Optimization
- Purchasing Links
- Selling Links
- Comment Spamming
- Hidden Text
- Duplicate Content
- Keyword stuffing
- Manual penalties
- URL redirection to another site
- Too frequent content change
- Bad spelling and grammar
- Concentration of perfect match for search term in all matches
- Rate of increase in inbound links
- Concentration of authority links in total inbound links
- Ratio of linking domains and total number of links
- Linking to bad neighborhood. Sometimes, even a ‘nofollow’ link affects search ranking
- Proven/reported link buying/selling
As Google is striving for developing human like intelligence to gauge article quality, with every updates they are moving closure to eliminate signals which do not determine article quality. Google’s artificial intelligence algorithm is being tested in driver less car experiment. If their algorithm can decide how to maneuver through the traffic, they can soon be able to determine article quality as well.
Off-course driving on a road is easier for a machine than determining relative quality between two articles. So, it will take a few more years before Google succeeds. They are attacking the problem in two battlefields
Determining search intention, context and type
Determining article quality to put relative ranks.
How Google trying to gauge search intent and context is not the topic of this article. But certainly determining article quality is.
Signals that determine article quality
- Average time spent by previous visitors
- Total number and quality of inbound links
- Social sharing on Twitter, Google plus (to me Google plus was created more to understand social behavior than to compete with Facebook, as Facebook refuses to give Google their social data). See how tweets affects ranking
- Total links forwarded in Gmail
- Repeat visitors to the article
- Links to super authority pages from the article
- The whole readability factor we talked about in “site and page design” section
- Author information including contact info
- Presence of unnatural links
- Authority site back link
- Site brand value to Google (we know it as authority)
- Spelling and grammar
Future of Google search result algorithmic changes
In a few years, these quality signals will take greater significance than any other signals we talked about above. Manual penalty will not be a factor any more as even with buying links sites will not be able to out rank others.
I am not SEO expert, many things I mentioned above may not be in actual Google algorithm. I request you to put your comment about issues you see in the article.