John Mueller Says Google Does Not Rank Ranking Factors
Google’s John Mueller said in an SEO Office Hours Hangout that they have moved away from the “200 SEO ranking signals” number. He told the SEO community that having a number like that could cause misunderstandings among publishers and website owners.
Mueller further explained that one could not write down all the ranking signals and sort them out on a spreadsheet.
In the past, Google’s algorithms used several HTML elements – such as headings, page titles, and font sizes – to identify the context of a web page. At the time, the search engine company gave more importance to these elements and even the placement of the keywords on the content. They also considered the links and their anchor text.
The things mentioned above were known as ranking factors. In the past, online businesses and site owners had to implement these factors alongside keywords to boost their rankings.
Google described many of the ranking factors in their first Stanford University research paper in 1998: The Anatomy of A Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.
For the past twenty years, Google has made a lot of changes to its algorithms. Despite the new launches and updates, many still hold on to the idea of ranking factors. The SEO community should know that Google has evolved throughout time, incorporating advanced technology like Neural Matching, AI spam-fighting, Natural Language Processing, BERT, and many more.
Moreover, Google incorporated statistical analysis to identify web pages in 2005. By then, they were capable of distinguishing outliers and spammy websites. Although statistical analysis is not a ranking factor, it had a major contribution to SEO today.
One can argue that the paradigm of over 200 ranking factors started breaking down in 2005. The idea of scoring points against a list of ranking factors made sense in the past. However, there is a difference in how SEO rankings are calculated in modern search engines today, making the previous idea irrelevant in 2021.
The Most Important Ranking Factors
An SEO recently asked John Mueller about the most important ranking factors among all the 200 ranking signals. Mueller answered honestly, saying he does not like to rank ranking factors, so he cannot give the person a straight answer. He then explained that Google has “moved away” from the 200 ranking signals because it misleads people into thinking that the search engine company sorts these signals by importance. But that is not the case.
Mueller also said that there are a lot of factors to consider in SEO – not just those 200 ranking factors – and no one should isolate them out.
Although Mueller was against the idea of sorting ranking signals and determining the best one based on its importance, he did not elaborate beyond that. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see how complex Google’s systems have become today.
For instance, the MUM algorithm can identify images as an input – meaning it does not even use any keywords! This algorithm can also give answers sorted from web pages worldwide, regardless of the language used. Because of the complexity involved, it’s hard to see how much of an impact general ranking factors like keywords or links would actually have.
Mueller provided helpful insights into ranking factors by explaining that Google does not list and sort SEO ranking signals by importance, contrary to what some in the search community might believe.
Myth: Google Has 200 Ranking Factors
It is challenging for many site owners and publishers to keep up with Google ranking factors as the search engine company is quickly and constantly updating its algorithms. A factor that did not impact search rankings in the past may become a significant ranking factor in the future, and vice-versa. Moreover, a lot of misinformation on the Internet could make it hard to distinguish black-hat tactics from white-hat strategies.
The 200 figure seems to have originated in 2009 when Google’s Matt Cutts said that there were more than “200 variables” in the Google algorithm. But this was a decade ago when the search engine used older systems before Hummingbird, mobile-first index, HTTPS boost, and many other updates and changes, including machine learning like RankBrain.
Things have changed today, and even if there were more than 200 ranking factors in the past, Google would have probably added one or two more factors since.
Although no one knows what those “200 ranking factors” are, some commonly discussed ranking signals are confirmed to play a huge role in SEO.
Here are some of the most widely discussed ranking factors in the SEO industry.
- Content is the foundation of the search results. The very reason search engines were made in the first place was to help readers find content more easily. Without content, there would be no reason for Google to exist in the first place, so it goes without saying that content is a major ranking factor.
- However, it does not mean that one should create content aimlessly for the sake of building links. The content should also be relevant to a searcher’s query.
- Core Web Vitals
- User experience is always crucial to SEO, though content relevance would always supersede other ranking signals. Nevertheless, a website should still provide the best user experience possible.
- Site speed
- Google announced site speed as a ranking factor in 2010. However, it was not until July this year that they started considering it as a ranking signal for mobile. Google might have been dependant on desktop page speed in the past, and launching the mobile-first index caused them to add speed as a factor for mobile versions.
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