In a Google SEO Office Hours Hangout, Google’s John Mueller revealed that Google has “moved away from the 200 ranking signals number.” He said that having a number like that is misleading.
Mueller said it’s not the case that the ranking signals can be sorted and ranked as a list on a spreadsheet.
Google Ranking Signals
In the distant past various HTML elements were used by Google’s algorithms for identifying what a web page is about. HTML elements like the page title, headings and font sizes were given extra importance, as well as the location of keywords on a web page (top of the page more important) and links and the anchor text associated with those links.
These were collectively known as ranking factors.
A web page literally needed to have all of these ranking factors filled out with keywords in order to rank properly.
Many of those ranking factors were described in Google’s first Stanford University research paper from 1998, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.
It’s been over twenty years and while many still cling to the idea of ranking factors, Google itself has evolved beyond ranking factors and incorporates things like Natural Language Processing, BERT, Neural Matching and AI spam fighting, and many other algorithms.
Not only that but by 2005 Google was already incorporating statistical analysis to identify normal sites and sites that were outliers and tended to be spam.
Statistical analysis is not a ranking factor in the traditional sense but it played a role in ranking.
A case can arguably be made that the paradigm of 200+ ranking factors was breaking down as early as 2005.
While in the past the idea of scoring points against a list of ranking factors made sense, in 2021 the idea of a list of ranking factors to focus on for better rankings has somewhat lost relevance because of how search rankings are calculated in modern search engines today.
Which Ranking Factors are Most Important?
Someone from the search community asked John Mueller which of the ranking factors was most important.
Ordinarily Googlers have in the past mentioned that the content is the most important ranking factor. But not today.
The person asked which ranking factors are most important:
“Among all of the 200 ranking signals, which are the most important?”
“I don’t like to rank ranking signals. So I can’t give you an answer there.
And… the other small thing there is we’ve kind of moved away from the over 200 ranking signals number, because it feels like even having a number like that is kind of misleading in the sense that, Oh Google has a spreadsheet with all of the ranking signals and they can just sort them by importance and tell me which ones they are.
And that’s definitely not the case.
Like… a lot of these things just take into account so many different things, you can’t just isolate them out.”
No More Top Ranking Factors?
Mueller said that it’s not the case that ranking signals could be listed and sorted by importance and that the factors cannot be isolated out.
Mueller didn’t elaborate beyond that. But it’s easy to understand how complicated Google’s search engine is today.
For example, the MUM algorithm can take images as an input (no keywords!) and provide an answer sorted from web pages around the world, regardless of language.
How would a general ranking factor like links or keywords in title even work in a scenario like that?
John Mueller has given the search community a deep insight into ranking factors by stating that the signals cannot be listed and sorted by importance because the search community believes that ranking factors can be sorted and ranked.
Google’s Moved Away from 200 Ranking Signals Number
Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 49:47 minute mark: