The 2022 Google Algorithm Ranking Factors
First Page Sage began conducting a continuous study of Google’s algorithm 13 years ago, and for the last several years has published its results publicly. As the largest SEO firm in the US, it has a sizable data set on which to base its understanding of the factors that comprise Google’s search algorithm.
Below is the 2022 update, along with a description of each factor and a summary of changes from the past year.
2022 Google Algorithm Ranking Factors
|Consistent Publication of Engaging Content||26%|
|Keywords in Meta Title Tags||17%▼|
|Mobile-Friendly / Mobile-First Website||5%▲|
|Site Security / SSL Certificate||2%|
|Schema Markup / Structured Data||1%|
|Keywords in URL||1%|
|Keywords in Header Tags||1%|
|Keywords in Meta Description Tags + 19 Other Factors||1%|
Updates to Google’s Algorithm in 2022
The significant updates and changes Google made to its algorithm since 2021 are as follows:
- User Engagement more than doubled in importance this year (5% → 11%), making it the fifth most important factor in Google’s algorithm in 2022, in the realm of mainstays like Backlinks and Keyword in Title Tags. As we look to the future of SEO in 2023 and beyond, our team is confident that creating the most satisfying experience for the searcher based on the intent of their query will continue to rise in significance.
- The #1 factor, Consistent Publication of Engaging Content, stayed steady at 26% in 2022, which is notable given the greater share of the pie User Experience now consumes. Google continues to reward reliable purveyors of high quality information by allowing them to rank highly — often on the first page — for their targeted keyword within a few days of publishing. While it can take >6 months to earn news website status, the consistent content publishing it takes to get there is the most heavily weighted factor in Google’s algorithm by a considerable margin.
- Keywords in Meta Titles decreased more than any other factor on our list (22% → 17%) as Google increased its practice of autogenerating meta titles in certain situations. However, this factor is unique in that choosing the correct keywords for each page of your website remains a prerequisite to ranking. So while it’s less important than it was last year, it’s still critical.
- Niche Expertise rose slightly in value (12% → 13%), highlighting the significance of Hub and Spoke SEO, wherein high-level pages targeting major keywords link to a cluster of other pages targeting related keywords.
- Backlinks went down ever so slightly (16% → 15%), highlighting this once-dominant’s factor’s gradual decline. While it’s still the fourth most significant algorithm factor, it’s a relic of an era when Google’s AI wasn’t sophisticated enough to evaluate the quality and originality of web content on its own and needed other websites to do the job. While the concept of judging a page’s trustworthiness based on links from other websites – a relative of the academic citation system – will always be relevant, it will likely settle at ~10% weight in Google’s algorithm.
- Offsite mentions, once a promising factor in the algorithm due to its success in the Google My Business ranking algorithm, dropped off the list entirely. Consistent Publication of Engaging Content, Niche Expertise, and User Experience consumed its share.
The Google Algorithm Ranking Factors, Explained
In this section, we elaborate on each of the principal ranking factors in Google’s 2022 search algorithm.
Consistent Publication of Engaging Content
It’s been four years since engaging content surpassed backlinks as the top factor in Google’s search algorithm, and while content maintained its proportion of the algorithm in 2022, links decreased. The past year confirmed without a doubt that Google tests newly-published content to see if it responds well to the search intent of the keyword. If the searchers’ behavior indicates that they’re getting their intent satisfied through the page’s content, it is promoted. As a general rule, Google’s AI prizes thought leadership content produced at least twice per week.
Keywords in Meta Title Tags
Inserting the keywords your page is targeting into its meta title tag has been essential to ranking since the late 1990s. While this fact is obvious to any experienced SEO marketer, keyword strategy is a rigorous intellectual task that can easily take 20-30 minutes per page. It’s also worth noting that the placement and concentration of keywords within a title tag are important. Ideally, your title tag would contain only your targeted keyword; but in reality, adding articles and adjectives around it are important for readability.
Backlinks were the original foundation of Google’s algorithm, as laid out in the research paper that founded Google. However, in 2018, they began to lose ground to the two factors above: Consistent Publication of Engaging Content and Keywords in Meta Title Tags. While backlinks are still a major factor in Google’s decision of where to rank a website in its search results, content should be your primary focus as it attracts links organically while simultaneously being the most important ranking factor in and of itself.
In mid-2017, Google began favoring websites that it perceives as niche experts. In this context, being a niche expert means having a cluster of 10+ authoritative pages revolving around the same “hub” keyword. For example, the keyword “crm software” could be the hub keyword for a CRM company that has industry landing pages targeting “crm software for small business” “crm software for real estate” and “crm software for manufacturing”; and FAQ landing pages targeting “crm software pricing” “crm software advantages” and “best crm software 2023”. The consistency of the hub keyword across the pages of the website creates a kind of magnetism: the site attracts traffic from any Google search containing the hub keyword.
Google put much greater emphasis on this factor, which is often discussed alongside hubs, in 2017. The greater the concentration of pages with the same keyword in their title tags, the higher the site will rank for that keyword, as long as there are internal links connecting them. Publishing 25 articles on different aspects of a subject and linking all of them back to one authoritative page would be a powerful expression of that page’s value, and would confer higher ranking ability onto that page.
Mobile-Friendly / Mobile-First Website
If you want to reach visitors in 2022, your site needs to be easy to navigate on mobile phones and tablets. The standard used to be “mobile friendliness,” but Google has shifted to a mobile-first world, meaning it expects mobile visitors to be the primary target of your web design. Ideally, a desktop version of your website shouldn’t even exist. The site should look exactly the same on mobile and desktop: the layout should be fairly simple and the site navigation optimized for a mobile user experience.
The biggest change to Google’s algorithm in the last five years is the increased importance of User Engagement, which was integrated into the ranking algorithm in 2016. Google used to be wary of giving weight to an on-site factor that could be easily manipulated by site owners. But Google’s increasingly-sophisticated technology—borrowed from the click fraud detection side of its advertising business—has made user engagement a sizable part of its algorithm.
User engagement is related to the #1 overall factor, Consistent Publication of Engaging content. Engagement, which combines bounce rate, time on page, and pages per session, is a good indicator of the content’s quality. Keep in mind, however, that searches have different intents behind them, some of which indicate that the searcher wants to quickly look up a piece of information; more is not always better.
Google has always tried to prize user experience above all else, hence its investment in thousands of datacenters around the world so that it can serve search results in milliseconds. Your site should take a page from Google’s book and focus on page speed. You want pages to load as quickly as possible, no longer than 3 seconds to receive full ranking credit for this factor. Although Page Speed lost some ground in 2022 because Google no longer gives extra weight to super-fast pages (<1 second load time) or very fast pages (1-2 seconds load time), quick load times continue to matter. You can test your page speed on Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool.
Site Security / SSL Certificate
As the web has become more central in our lives, hackers have become more sophisticated. Google’s nightmare would be serving up sites that are harmful to its searchers. As a corollary, if your domain is even vulnerable to being hacked—if, say, your site lacks an SSL certificate (indicated by the “s” at the end of “https”)—it will lose ranking ability. An SSL certificate is usually free and can be obtained from your registrar quite easily.
Schema Markup / Structured Data
A modern version of meta tags, schema markup is code that you can add to your website’s pages to help Google serve more visual search results such as snippets. If you’ve ever seen search results that are longer and list out a site’s main pages; or highlight an important piece of data; or contain a 5-star ranking system or list of events, then you’re familiar with schema markup. Google favors pages that use schema markup because it makes those pages’ search results more useful to searchers. As a bonus, they also cause search results to stand out from the rest of the others on the page.
Keywords in URL
A remnant of old-school SEO from the 2000s, putting the keyword(s) you’re targeting in the URL of the page is still a best practice, although its weight in the algorithm is minimal.
Keywords in Header Tags
Including keywords in a page’s H1, H2, and H3 tags is a best practice that makes a small difference in a page’s ranking ability. You shouldn’t overdo this practice, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Keywords in Meta Description Tags + 19 Other Factors
There are 20 other factors that our team has found to make some difference in a website and/or page’s ability to rank – for example, placing keywords in meta title tags, offsite mentions of your brand, and anchor text keyword density. Although a website that is battling a competitor to move from the #2 spot to the #1 should be looking at every opportunity to improve, the majority of marketers don’t need to think too hard about them.
In 2022, the complex algorithm that Google Search once maintained has settled into a shorter list of factors that require attention but not obsession. Owing to its continued eradication of low-quality SEO—an effort that first took shape in 2009 and is now all but complete—Google is much better able to fulfill its mission of creating the best possible search experience for its users by serving those users fast, relevant, and high-quality search results. What this means for marketers is that you must have proper strategy guiding your SEO efforts that is both organized and intentional, with each page targeting a different keyword that a prospect for your business would search. If you have a blog, each post should be the best treatment of the subject from the point of view of your target audience. If you can do that, users will be engaged, links will accrue organically, and you’ll climb the Google Search rankings.