The 2020 Google Algorithm Ranking Factors
Each year, First Page Sage updates its observations of Google’s algorithm based on how FPS client campaigns have performed. As the largest pure-SEO company in the US, First Page Sage has a unique insight into Google’s algorithm factors.
Below is the 2020 update. Underneath the chart, you can find an explanation of each factor and a summary of changes from the past year.
2020 Google Algorithm Factors
|Consistent Publication of High-Quality Content||25%|
|Keywords in Meta Title Tags||21%|
|Internal Links from Related Articles||8%|
|Mobile-Friendly / Mobile-First Website||7%|
|Visitor Time on Site||7%|
|Site Security / SSL Certificate||4%|
|Schema Markup / Structured Data||2%|
|Keywords in URL||1%|
|Keywords in H1 tags||1%|
|Keywords in Meta Description|
Tags + 18 Other Factors
Consistent Publication of High-Quality Content
It’s been two years since high-quality content outpaced links as the largest factor in Google’s search algorithm. It’s important to recognize that content alone has no value in the algorithm. Rather, it takes high-quality content (i.e. thought leadership content), produced frequently (2x/week minimum) to push substantial traffic to your website.
Keywords in Meta Title Tags
If you don’t include the keywords you wish to rank for in your title tags, you have very little chance of ranking. While this seems relatively easy to do, selecting the right keyword for every page is time-intensive and unintuitive, and few companies do it effectively. It’s also worth noting that the placement and concentration of keywords within a title tag are also important. The best scenario is to have a title tag with little else in it besides your target keyword.
Inbound links were the original basis of the research paper that founded Google, and they have always been the centerpiece of the algorithm. However, beginning in 2018, they were edged out by the two factors above: Consistent publication and keywords in meta title tags. While inbound links still weigh heavily in Google’s trust of a website, they should be less of a concern than publishing great content regularly. Doing so leads naturally to inbound links from bloggers, journalists, and industry resources.
Internal Links from Related Articles
Google put much greater emphasis on this factor, which is often discussed alongside pillar pages, in 2017. It looks at how much supporting content a particular page has that relates to the keyword that page is targeting. The more pages your site contains that target a long-tail version of a keyword and link to the main page targeting that keyword, the more authoritative Google considers the main page. Publishing 100 articles on different aspects of a subject, then linking them all back to one main page would be a powerful expression of that page’s authority, and confer lots of ranking ability onto that page.
Mobile-Friendly / Mobile-First Website
If you want to reach visitors in 2020, your site needs to be easy to navigate on mobile phones and tablets. The standard used to be “mobile friendliness,” but Google is shifting to a mobile-first world, meaning that it expects mobile visitors to be the primary target of your website’s design. Ideally, a desktop version of your website shouldn’t even exist. The site should look exactly the same on mobile and desktop, meaning the layout should be fairly simple and the site navigation optimized for a mobile user experience.
Visitor Time on Site
This is a factor that wasn’t introduced until 2016, as Google was wary of giving weight to an on-site factor that could be easily spoofed. Google’s increasingly-sophisticated technology—borrowed from the click fraud detection side of its advertising business—has made Visitor Time on Site a rather large part of its algorithm. The actual experience of visitors (which may be measured partly by time on site) is a strong indication how they value the site.
Visitor Time on Site is related to the #1 overall factor: Consistent, high-quality content production. More time spent on the site is a good indicator of your content’s quality. Google knows its robots aren’t always the best judge of whether the content on a page is genuinely useful to a visitor (what if all that’s on a page is an image, but one that answers the user’s query perfectly?), so it takes cues from the visitor’s time on site to determine quality.
Google has always prized the user experience above all else, hence its investment in thousands of data centers 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 site speed. You want pages to load as quickly as possible. With each additional second it takes for your site to load, ranking ability is lost. 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.
For years, there have been discussions about whether Google takes into account mentions of a website that aren’t hyperlinks. Mentioning a company is the same idea as links but without the actual linking, so why shouldn’t that mention towards Google’s algorithm? This factor, while relatively new, makes up a small but noticeable portion of Google’s algorithm.
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 fancier search results. If you’ve ever seen search results that are longer and list out a site’s main pages; or highlight one snippet on a page; or contain a 5-star ranking system or a 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 representation in the algorithm is minimal.
Keywords in H1 Tags
Like keywords in H1 tags, keywords in a page’s H1 tags are a best practice that makes a small difference in a page’s ranking ability.
The Remaining 1%
There are 19 other factors that our team has observed make some difference in a site and/or page’s ability to rank. 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.
Changes in Google’s Algorithm Since 2019
The main changes that Google made to its algorithm in 2020 that differ from 2019 are as follows:
- The #1 factor, consistent publication of high quality content, edged up in importance by a few percentage points
- Most of the percentage points that high quality content publication gained were taken from the former darling of Google’s algorithm: Links
- H1 tags lowered in importance slightly
- Social signals continued to decline in value, seemingly counterintuitively. Our team believes this is because Google tracks so much data about its users that it doesn’t need to rely on social data as much as it once expected
The complex program that Google’s algorithm once was 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 a thought leadership content production program that is organized and intentional, with each post targeting a different keyword that a member of your target audience would search. Each post should be the best treatment of the subject you can deliver. From there, links, mentions, high time on site, and other important algorithm factors will accrue in your favor.