A Compilation of 200 Google Signals that Determine Search Results

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 hereHere’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

An example of importance Google is giving to user preference, notice below, I searched for “How to score car rental deals”. Google presented me with “car rental scam” as the previous search was for “timeshare scams”. In fact the next result was about timeshare scam! Look how “car”, “rental” and “deal” words are highlighted in short descriptions on both.
How Google search uses user preference

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

Article/Page Content 

  • 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

Negative factors

This aspects re-adjust the final ranking your page, executes at the end in ranking process.

  • Over Optimization
  • Purchasing Links
  • Selling Links
  • Comment Spamming
  • Cloaking
  • Hidden Text
  • Duplicate Content
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Manual penalties
  • URL redirection to another site
  • Too frequent content change
  • Bad spelling and grammar
Manual Penalty Reasons
  • 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

  1. Determining search intention, context and type

  2. 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

  1. Average time spent by previous visitors
  2. Total number and quality of inbound links
  3. 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
  4. Total links forwarded in Gmail
  5. Repeat visitors to the article
  6. Links to super authority pages from the article
  7. The whole readability factor we talked about in “site and page design” section
  8. Author information including contact info
  9. Presence of unnatural links
  10. Authority site back link
  11. Site brand value to Google (we know it as authority)
  12. Spelling and grammar

Future of Google search result algorithmic changes

Ken is a SEO specialist, recently he wrote about death of SEO in a Forbes article. Many things listed above (except the 12 quality pointers) are going to be obsolete/negligible as they do not signify quality of article. One amazing new discovery with a sample survey is, Google assigning weights to even ‘nofollow’ links. Interesting food for thought. Rumors going around that, number of comments in a blog post is one of the latest addition to Google signals to quality.

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. 

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  1. says

    Very interesting list. I try to do the most I can to get better search results but there is no way I can account for ALL of those factors. I’ll continue doing the best I can and see what happens when my blog has some good age behind it.

    • says

      Yeah one of the main factors is the domain brand value and age, both come with time, be patient and do other things as suggested.

  2. Squeezer @Personal Finance Success says

    I just learned about SEO Moz lately and started playing around with it. It’s a useful tool, but thanks for explaining how google calculates what it lists in search results also.

    • says

      The Squeezer, if that’s your real name.. SEO moz blog is a very useful source of information for me since last few months. Even the guest posts they publish are gems.

  3. says

    All I can say is wow – that’s really overwhelming! Thanks for providing the list – I had no idea there was so much involved in determining search results.

  4. says

    I agree with Canuck Buck. That is overwhelming but also very helpful. There are a lot of things to consider it seems. I think I am not going to stress about it though and just concentrate on articles. That is what really matters I think.

  5. says

    I think i’ll have to read this a few times to get everything to stick but what a great list! Google has been one the most confusing parts of building my site because everyone seems to say different things! In the end I came to the same conclusion as Miss T. Whilst I do my best regarding SEO, I just try to produce good quality articles and hope the rest comes along with it.

  6. says

    I’ve been working online for more than a decade and have never come across such an exhaustive list of google factors. It’s great food for thought. Thanks for taking the time to compile this.

  7. says

    This is a fantastic list. For somebody that’s just started out like myself, having something like this is extremely useful. Now I can stop trying to figure out why one other site ranks higher than mine when I type in the name of my page exactly. This other site has been inactive for years, yet it’s still number 1.

  8. Debt Free Teen says

    Thanks for all this great information . Although it’s a bit overwhelming, it’s really amazing that we can find anything on the web anymore with all the content online. I guess it all comes back to writing good content and networking.

    • says

      yes We have to be thankful to Google for being so efficient with searches. They have faults but rapidly they are amending it. Duplicate contents are almost gone from first few pages of Google.

  9. says

    The Google Algorithm is almost an artifical intelligence. It’s so highly advanced it can almost think on its own. I wouldn’t be suprised if the Google servers told each other jokes and some would laugh and others wouldn’t!

    • says

      Nice example! Yes I wouldn’t be surprised as well. Although the core algorithm is same but in its implementation layer the ranking adjustments do happen differently across geographies and also at various time of the day.

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