Which Google ranking factors really count?

Google ranking factors

Content, keywords, page speed, backlinks, meta tags and much more – the number of supposed factors for placement on Google is large. But which ranking criteria really count? A new study by Backlinko brings some light into the darkness. After all, the study is based on 11.8 million search queries. It confirms what is already known, but it also offers surprises.

The domain counts

According to a statement by Google expert Matt Cutts, Google takes almost 10,000 factors into account when determining the ranking. In a new study, Backlinko has tried to find out what elements provide significant results, which can also be expressed in numbers.

But first the most important result: The link authority of the domain under which a single page is listed correlates very strongly with better positions in the search results for individual URLs. Backlinko’s study discovered a clear correlation between the so-called domain authority as measured by ahrefs.com and good rankings.

On the other hand, few correlations were found between the authority of a single URL (page authority) and Google rankings. Domain Rating and Domain Authority are variables based largely on the number (and quality) of backlinks.

Backlinks push the ranking

Many backlinks correlate strongly with good Google positions. This is especially true for the very first entry on the Google results list. On average, the page that is number 1 for a keyword has almost four times as many backlinks as the pages in the following nine places. A convincing figure. It is important to have backlinks from as many different websites as possible: The study found a correlation between the number of domains (not individual pages) that link to the site and the ranking. Needless to say, the quality and relevance of the linking website also counts.

However, the study does not provide an answer to the question of cause and effect. Because it is obvious that high-quality sites are linked more often than lesser ones. One thing is clear: If you invest in the contents of a website you will also increase the chances of backlinks.

The loading time – not so important after all?

Lean websites load faster. Is that why they rank better on Google? No. At least that is the result of the Backlinko study. Brian Dean’s team of experts from Boston found no connection between page speed and the rankings on Google’s first results page. This is surprising, because this finding is in direct contradiction to Google’s official claim that the loading speed of a website is a ranking criterion for both mobile and desktop searches. This might be due to improved technologies that can process more and more megabytes in milliseconds. What was once considered data-intensive is now standard.

Nevertheless, the following should still apply: When in doubt, opt for shorter load times. This minimizes the risk of interruptions by users with outdated devices or poor Internet connections. Google’s Developer page offers practical information on this.

Long dwell time – good positions

Actually a simple realization: If you search for a keyword on Google, click on a result and stay there a little longer, you seem to have found what you were looking for. People who click back immediately also have their reasons! In a nutshell: Abandonment is a bad sign and longer dwell time sends positive signals to Google.

The Backlinko study provides solid evidence for the SEO significance of dwell time. Above average dwell times are also reflected in the SERPs. Expressed in numbers:

  • A dwell time that is three seconds longer improves Google’s ranking by one place.

Further results of the Backlinko study:

  • URL length has minimal impact on rankings. When in doubt, shorter URLs are slightly better.
  • Whether the entire HTML code of a page is shorter or longer does not seem to be relevant for the ranking either.
  • Structured data apparently does not directly affect the position in the results list. However, they do make it easier for Google to understand the content of a page.

Content counts – how many words does Google like?

If a topic with a relevant keyword is dealt with comprehensively, this is positive from a search engine perspective. SEO keywords here are Holism, Cornerstone and Evergreen Content. The more content depth, the better the ranking.

The Backlinko study also provides a statistical value for this. To toss another number into the ring with regard to the eternal question of the ideal number of words:

  • Approximately 1400 to 1500 words are ideal to comprehensively treat a keyword – and thus score points with Google. This is at least the average value of the results on the first Google page.

But here too, the rule is: It all depends. Because the average value for the number of words (which is exactly 1447) is an average value. There are also outliers up and down.

Whether 100, 500 or 1500 words – good unique content for SEO is available on order at clickworker. Optimized for every keyword.

Keywords in the title tag – the ticket to the top 10

The fact that the main keyword of a page should be in the meta tag Title is an old SEO wisdom. Also Google itself recommends all webmasters to place the main theme in this important HTML element. Finally, the title tag provides the headlines in the SERPs.

It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of well-placed pages have title tags that correspond to the keyword you are looking for. However, the following is interesting:

  • For the exact placement on the first Google page it makes no significant difference whether a title tag is keyword-optimized or not.

This means: The keyword in the title tag is probably a kind of door opener for Google’s page 1. Once the URL has been placed there, further title optimization will not help. Then it seems to depend on content, dwell time and other signals.


What are the key criteria for the secret Google algorithm? The Backlinko study mainly emphasizes the relevance of the backlinks – but also the known factors dwell time, keywords in the title tag and the domain authority. The fact that the loading time of a page has no influence on the ranking is surprising. And as always, it is the content that counts in the end. Good content, presented as comprehensively and structured as possible, is ultimately always the safe way to good long-term rankings.



Jan Knupper