True Google Ranking Factors Revealed?

Not so long ago, there was a leak of Google's internal documents. The doc uncovered some factors that Google considers when ranking websites in search results. What's even more interesting is that some of the details in the leak contradict what Google has publicly stated. 

Having carefully reviewed these documents, I've come up with the key findings. In today's article, you will explore how SEOs previously grasped popular ranking factors, the insights unearthed by the leak, and relevant optimization techniques.

Disclaimer: The origin of this document and its true purpose isn't clear, but most SEOs assume it's about the Google ranking algorithm.
Erfan Azimi shared the document with Rand Fishkin, who then shared it with everyone.

Rand Fishkin's post on LinkedIn

Keep in mind that Erfan Azimi has never worked for Google, so I can't guarantee that the assumptions I've made are absolutely true. They're more like educated guesses based on the info that got leaked onto the internet. Take them with a grain of salt.

#1 Content relevance, depth, and comprehensiveness

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We have always known that content is king when it comes to SEO. Google claims to reward websites with high-quality, informative content that is relevant to the user's search query. The more valuable your content is to the user, the higher you will rank in search results. Here is what they say in SEO Starter Guide:

Creating content that people find compelling and useful will likely influence your website's presence in search results more than any of the other suggestions in this guide


New findings:

The leak confirms that your content should thoroughly address the topic to rank well. To determine whether a document is or isn’t a core topic of the website, Google vectorizes pages and sites, then compares the page embeddings (siteRadius) to the site embeddings (siteFocusScore).


By “embeddings”, I mean a mathematical representation of a web page or other document. These embeddings are used to capture the semantic meaning and relationships between words, allowing machines to understand the nuances of language.

So, if your site is about SEO, and you suddenly write an article about hiking gear, you are unlikely to have a chance to rank well with such content.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Analyze your top-performing content and identify the common topics and entities that tie them together. This will help you refine your content strategy to align with your website's core focus. Don't forget to build customizable SEO dashboards to monitor your progress and make data-driven decisions efficiently.

Tip 2. Create content clusters around your core topic. These clusters should group related sub-topics and long-tail keywords that provide comprehensive information on a specific aspect of your main theme. Such a structure helps Google understand the depth of your knowledge and improves your website's topical authority.

Tip 3. Go beyond plain keyword use. Use synonyms and related terms throughout your content to create a semantic web for your page. This helps Google better understand your content and its connection to the broader topic. You can find those relevant terms with Rank Tracker’s Keyword Research module.

Download Rank Tracker

Tip 4. Identify key entities related to your topic and strategically integrate them into your content. Research and link to authoritative sources that discuss these entities. This can help establish your content as a thought leader and build trust with Google's algorithm.

Tip 5. Always back your claims with relevant data, statistics, and research findings. Link to reputable sources and scholarly articles to “show off” the credibility and comprehensiveness of your content.

#2 Content freshness 

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We knew that Google preferred fresh content. This means the websites that consistently produce new or updated content stand a better chance of ranking higher in search results. Google clearly stated that in their guide to Google Search ranking system:

We have various "query deserves freshness" systems designed to show fresher content for queries where it would be expected. For example, if someone is searching about a movie that's just been released, they probably want recent reviews rather than older articles from when production began.


New findings:

The leak confirms that content freshness continues to be a significant ranking factor for Google.  We may suppose freshness matters as Google looks at dates in the byline (bylineDate), URL (syntacticDate), and on-page content (semanticDate).

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Create a content calendar and stick to it.

Tip 2. Make sure you specify the date your content is published and updated. 

Tip 3. Regularly update your website with new content. Old content is also worth updating when needed. 

Tip 4. Be consistent with the date you specify across structured data, page titles, and XML sitemaps. 

Tip 5. Don’t put dates in your URL. Years later, when you update the content, this date may conflict with the dates in the text body. 

#3 Title optimization

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We know titles should be optimized for better rankings. We also know Google can easily rewrite them whenever they want, especially, when the title is longer or shorter than the defined limit

New findings:

According to the leaked doc, page titles still matter. Google has a feature called titlematchScore that is believed to measure how well a page title matches a query.

However, there is no metric in this dataset that counts the length of page titles or snippets. 

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Ensure that your title is well-written and easy to read. Pay attention to grammar, sentence structure, and clarity.

Tip 2. Aim for clear, concise titles that accurately reflect your content. While length might not be a de-ranking trigger, prioritize user readability and avoid keyword stuffing.

Tip 3. Structure your title as a question or a statement that directly answers the user's query. This increases your chances of appearing as a featured snippet, which can significantly boost click-through rates.

Tip 4. Don't be afraid to experiment with different title variations. Use A/B testing tools to see which titles generate the most clicks and conversions for your target audience.

#4 Content length

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

SEOs believe longer content ranks better. Plus, Google perceives thin content (content of little or no value—usually a short read) as a black hat practice. 

New findings:

In fact, things with content length are not exactly as we thought: there is theOriginalContentScoremetric that suggests that short content is scored for its originality. This is probably why thin content is not always a function of length. 

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Don't prioritize length over value. Focus on creating high-quality, informative content that addresses the user's search query comprehensively.

Tip 2. Target user intent. Analyze what users are looking for with specific keywords and adjust your content length accordingly. Informational topics might require longer explanations, while transactional queries might be great for shorter, focused content.

You can also define the best content length with WebSite Auditor’s Content Editor. It's an all-in-one tool for managing your website's content. Here, you can write and optimize new/existing content based on the tailor-made recommendation, including content length.

Download WebSite Auditor

Tip 3. Consider user attention spans. While long-form content can be valuable, keep in mind how long users can pay attention to things. Structure your content strategically to deliver key information early in the text and keep users engaged throughout.

Tip 4. Experiment with different lengths. Track the performance of your content and experiment with different content lengths to see what resonates best with your target audience.

Tip 5. Create content clusters that combine long-form pillar content with shorter, supporting pieces. This allows you to comprehensively cover a topic while catering to users with varying content consumption preferences.

#5 Backlinks

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We knew that backlinks were one of the most important ranking factors. The more high-quality backlinks you have, the higher you will rank in search results.

However, last year Gary Illyes from Google claimed backlinks might be not as vital as we thought: 

I think they are important, but I think people overestimate the importance of links. I don’t agree it’s in the top three. It hasn’t been for some time.

Gary Illyes from Google

New findings:

The leak confirms that backlinks are still a very important ranking factor. However, it also suggests that Google may be placing more emphasis on the quality of backlinks rather than the quantity. This means that backlinks from high-authority, relevant websites are more valuable than backlinks from low-quality websites.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Create exceptional content that deserves to be linked to. Focus on in-depth analysis, unique data, and valuable insights that establish you as a thought leader in your niche. This will naturally attract backlinks from high-quality sources.

Tip 2. Prioritize backlinks from websites topically relevant to yours. Links from complementary websites within your industry carry more weight than generic backlinks from unrelated sources.

Tip 3. Focus on earning backlinks through organic strategies like guest blogging, creating infographics, or participating in industry discussions. Avoid black-hat tactics like buying links or link schemes, as these can bring your site to penalty.

Tip 4. Use tools like SEO SpyGlass to assess the authority, relevance, and penalty risk of potential linking websites. 

Download SEO SpyGlass

Tip 5. Build a diverse backlink profile with links from a variety of high-quality sources. This demonstrates a more natural linking pattern and helps avoid appearing suspicious to Google's algorithms.

#6 Indexing tier

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We knew Google categorized websites based on various factors, potentially impacting how often they were crawled and indexed. For instance, a frequently updated news site might be crawled more often than a static brochure website. Here is what Google states in Google Search Central documentation:

Note that Google strives to check and index pages in a reasonably timely manner. For most sites, this is three days or more. Don't expect Google to index pages the same day that you publish them unless you are a news site or have other high-value, extremely time-sensitive content.


New findings:

The leak confirms the indexing tier plays a role. Websites in higher tiers might be crawled and indexed more frequently.

It also applies to backlinks. The higher the tier, the more valuable the link. Pages that are newly published are also considered high quality. Suffice it to say, you want your links to come from pages that are either fresh or featured in the top tier. This partially explains why getting links from highly ranking pages and from news pages yields better performance.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Ensure your website adheres to Google's Search Essentials (Webmaster Guidelines). This includes having a mobile-friendly design, fast loading speed, and a clean code structure. A technically sound website is more likely to be crawled and indexed efficiently.

Tip 2. Regularly update your website with fresh, valuable content. Google prioritizes recently created content, so a steady stream of high-quality updates can improve your indexing tier.

Tip 3. Focus on acquiring backlinks from high-authority, well-established websites in your niche. Prioritize links from pages that are frequently updated and rank well in search results. Again, you can check the domain authority of any site with our free online Domain Authority Checker.

Tip 4. Create a strong internal linking structure that effectively connects your web pages. This helps Google understand your website's hierarchy and navigate your content efficiently, potentially boosting your overall indexing tier.

Tip 5. Submit an optimized sitemap to Google Search Console (GSC). A well-structured sitemap helps Google discover and index all your important pages effectively.

Tip 6. Regularly monitor your website's indexing health in GSC. This allows you to identify any indexing issues and address them promptly to maintain good standing within the indexing tiers.

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We know that the rapid growth of low-quality backlinks, especially with spam anchors, will bring you zero benefit. In the best case, Google simply won’t count them, in the worst case, you will get a penalty.

New findings:

The leak highlights Google actually tracks both the percentage of spam anchors and the speed with which low-quality backlinks appear. So, a sudden surge of low-quality backlinks could be a red flag for Google and your ranking may go down. 

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Prioritize building backlinks organically over time. Earning links through high-quality content creation, guest blogging, and industry engagement fosters a more natural link velocity.

Tip 2. Avoid sudden spikes in backlinks. This could trigger spam alerts within Google's algorithms. Focus on acquiring backlinks steadily over a sustained period. 

Tip 3. Use backlink monitoring tools like SEO SpyGlass to track your link acquisition rate. Identify any unusual spikes and investigate their source. Disavow those low-quality backlinks that may bring you to the Google penalty.

Download SEO SpyGlass

Tip 4. Uphold a high standard for link quality. Acquire backlinks from relevant, reputable websites with a clean link profile.

Tip 5. Encourage natural anchor text usage when other websites link to yours. Avoid keyword stuffing or manipulative anchor text practices.

#8 Clicks

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

Google spokesmen denied that click-through rate (CTR) was a factor that Google considered when ranking websites. A higher CTR can only indicate that your website is relevant and interesting to users.

New findings:

The leak suggests that Google may be placing more emphasis on clicks than we previously thought. This means that CTR is likely a very important ranking factor.


During the recent DOJ Antitrust Trial, Pandu Nayak's testimony revealed the existence of the NavBoost and Glue ranking systems. NavBoost is a system that utilizes click-based measures to elevate, lower, or otherwise strengthen a ranking in Web Search. 

Nayak mentioned that NavBoost has been in use since around 2005 and originally employed a rolling 18 months of click data. It was recently updated to use a rolling 13 months of data and focuses on web search results, while the Glue system is connected with other universal search results. Prior to this revelation, there were multiple patents, including the Time Based Ranking patent from 2007 that specifically mentions how click logs can influence results.

It is known that Google has transitioned to machine learning-based algorithms, and machine learning requires response variables to enhance its performance. Despite this compelling evidence, there is still confusion within the SEO community due to the conflicting statements made by Google's representatives and the uncritically repeated public statements in articles across the search marketing world.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. While focusing solely on clicks isn't ideal, creating informative, engaging content that addresses user search intent will naturally lead to higher CTRs.

Tip 2. Craft clear, concise, and engaging meta descriptions that accurately reflect your content and entice users to click on your snippet. Highlight the value proposition and benefits users will gain by visiting your site.

Tip 3. Write captivating headlines and titles that grab user attention in search results. Use strong verbs, keywords, and benefit-oriented language to stand out and encourage clicks.

Tip 4. Implement relevant schema markup to provide search engines with richer information about your content. This can lead to rich search snippets and potentially increase click-through rates. Or, you can even get a featured snippet, which will boost your clicks tremendously. 

#9 User dwell time

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We didn’t know (or weren’t sure) that user dwell time was a factor Google considered when ranking websites. 

New findings:

The leak confirms that user dwell time is an important ranking factor. Google may consider factors such as how long users stay on a website, how many pages they view, and whether they click on any outbound links.


Long clicks are a measure of the success of a search session, just like dwell time, but there is no specific feature called “dwell time” in this documentation.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Create high-quality content that is informative, engaging, and visually appealing. Break up text with images, infographics, and videos to keep users glued to your site.

Tip 2. Ensure your website is user-friendly with a clear navigation structure. Make it easy for users to find the information they need and navigate through your content seamlessly.

Tip 3. Optimize your website for flawless performance on smartphones and tablets. A smooth mobile experience keeps users engaged and coming back for more.

Tip 4. Craft clear calls to action (CTAs) that prompt users to interact with your content. Tell them exactly what you want them to do, whether it's subscribing to your newsletter, downloading a resource, or visiting another relevant page on your website. 

Don’t hesitate to add all sorts of elements that will encourage users  to switch between different pages of your site. For example, we made such and the number of pageview per session increased. 

Tip 5. Utilize website analytics tools to track user behavior and identify areas for improvement. See which pages users drop off from quickly, and optimize those pages to improve engagement metrics.

#10 Chrome data

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We weren't sure if Google used Chrome data (browsing history, search history, and bookmarks) to rank websites. However, we did know that Google might show personalized search results if approved by a user.

New findings:

The leak suggests that Google may be using Chrome data to personalize search results. This means that a user's browsing history and search history may influence the website rankings in search results.

One of the modules related to page quality scores features a site-level measure of views from Chrome. Another module that seems to be related to the generation of sitelinks has a Chrome-related attribute as well.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. While personalization is at play, prioritize creating high-quality content that caters to a broad user intent within your niche. This increases the chances of your content being relevant to a wider audience, regardless of their specific browsing history.

Tip 2. Focus on optimizing your content for the core search queries within your topic area. This ensures your website surfaces for users who are generally interested in that topic, even if their search history leans in a slightly different direction.

Tip 3. Uphold a consistent content strategy that delivers valuable, informative content. This establishes your website as a credible source within your niche, making it more likely to be shown to users regardless of personalized results.

#11 Domain authority

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We knew that domain authority was a factor Google considered when ranking websites. Websites with high domain authority tend to rank higher in search results. Still, Google stated they don’t have domain authority as a ranking factor:

New findings:

The leak confirms that domain authority is still a very important ranking factor. It also suggests that Google may consider a number of factors when determining domain authority, such as the website's age, the quality of its backlinks, and the website's overall traffic.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Don't just create informative content, strive for topical authority. Focus on creating in-depth content clusters that comprehensively cover subtopics within your niche. This establishes your website as a trusted resource for users seeking detailed information on a specific theme.

Tip 2. Back your claims with verifiable data, statistics, and research findings. Link to authoritative sources and academic studies to demonstrate the credibility and depth of your content.

Tip 3. Focus on acquiring high-quality backlinks from relevant websites within your niche. Prioritize links from established websites with strong domain authority.

Tip 4. Target high-authority websites in your niche for guest blogging opportunities. Contribute high-quality guest posts that showcase your expertise and provide value to their audience. This earns you a backlink from a relevant source and expands your reach. You can use LinkAssistant for a quick search of guest blogging and link-building opportunities. 

Download LinkAssistant

Tip 5. Encourage brand mentions and positive online reviews. Positive brand mentions, even without backlinks, can contribute to your overall online reputation and potentially influence domain authority.

Tip 6. Maintain an active social media presence and engage with your audience. Share valuable content, participate in relevant conversations, and build relationships with influencers within your niche. Social media engagement can drive traffic to your website and potentially improve brand awareness, which can contribute to domain authority.

#12 Homepage PageRank and homepage trust

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We knew PageRank influenced the rankings of individual pages. However, we never thought that it was the homepage that Google paid the closest attention to.

New findings:

The leak suggests that the PageRank and trustworthiness of a website's homepage might specifically impact the ranking of all its pages.

According to the doc, every site has its homepage PageRank associated with it. It is likely that PageRank and siteAuthorityare used as proxies for new pages until they have their own PageRank calculated.

As for homepage trust, Google decides how to value a link based on how much they trust the homepage.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Create compelling hero content on your homepage that showcases your website's value proposition and core offerings. Use high-quality visuals, clear messaging, and a call to action to engage users and encourage them to explore your website further.

Tip 2. Structure your homepage content with a clear hierarchy, highlighting the most important content sections and linking to relevant sub-pages within your website. Users should easily understand the breadth of information you offer and navigate seamlessly to the content they need.

Tip 3. Regularly update your homepage with fresh content and announcements. This demonstrates your website's ongoing activity and relevance, sending positive signals to search engines. For example, this way we announce a new SEO PowerSuite feature:

Tip 4. Craft a transparent and informative "About Us" section that tells your website's story, introduces your team, and highlights your expertise. This builds trust with users and establishes your website as a credible source.

Tip 5. Make your contact information readily available on your homepage. This fosters trust and assures users that you're a legitimate and accessible business.

Tip 6. If your website handles any sensitive information, display security seals and trust signals (e.g., SSL certificates) prominently on your homepage. This reassures users that their data is secure and protected.

Tip 7. Target high-authority websites within your niche for guest blogging opportunities. Negotiate guest posts that link back to your homepage, not just a specific sub-page. This directly boosts your homepage's authority and passes trust signals to other pages on your website.

Tip 8. Design a strong internal linking structure that strategically links your homepage to high-quality, relevant sub-pages within your website. This distributes the homepage's authority throughout your website and ensures search engines can efficiently discover and index all your valuable content.

#13 Host age and sandbox

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

Google denied that domain age plays any role in rankings.

However, SEOs believed the age of a domain might have played a role, and established websites potentially received a slight ranking boost.

More than that, Google claimed there is no such thing as a “sandbox” for new domains. However, SEOs still believe that there is one but don’t know how to avoid it whatsoever.


The term "Google Sandbox" refers to a theorized filter within Google's search algorithms. This filter would supposedly hinder new websites from ranking high in search results for a period of time, regardless of the quality of their content.

The idea is that Google puts these new sites in a kind of probationary period, while it assesses their trustworthiness and legitimacy. This would help prevent spammy websites from manipulating their way to the top of search rankings.

New findings:

The leak hints that website age could be a factor, but its exact weight remains unclear. 

Plus, Sandbox seems to exist and it contradicts Google's denial of a sandbox.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Focus on creating high-quality content and building a strong online presence. There's no shortcut to building a trustworthy website overnight.

Tip 2. Invest in building brand awareness through online and offline marketing efforts. A strong brand presence establishes trust and positions your website as a reliable source, potentially influencing ranking over time. 

You can monitor brand mentions and respond to them timely with social listening tools like Awario. You can also run sentiment analysis to learn how people speak of your brand.

Tip 3. Maintain a consistent content creation strategy. Regularly publish fresh, informative content to keep your website active and relevant. This demonstrates your commitment to providing value to your audience.

Tip 4. If you are considering buying a domain that was once in use, use a WHOIS lookup tool to find the domain's creation date and registrant information. Also, search for the domain name on reputation monitoring websites to identify any potential negative associations.

Tip 5. Analyze the domain's backlink profile to ensure it's clean and free of spammy links. Again, SEO SpyGlass is your go-to tool for such analysis.

Download SEO SpyGlass

#14 Experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T)

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We knew that Google valued websites that were seen as experts in their field. This is especially important for websites that provide YMYL content (Your Money or Your Life).

New findings:

The leak confirms that E-E-A-T is a significant ranking factor, particularly for YMYL content. Google may consider factors such as the author's credentials, the website's reputation, and the overall quality of the content. Google also collects all the information about the author and forms the author’s entity. And if this author’s entity is strong and well-leveled, then this authoritativeness automatically boosts the content written by this author.

Plus, according to the leaked document, YMYL content has its own ranking score (you may consult Quality Rater Guidelines to learn more about the concept).

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Build relationships with other experts in your industry.

Tip 2. Get your website linked to by high-authority websites in your niche.

Tip 3. Create comprehensive content clusters that cover various sub-topics in detail.

Tip 4. Highlight the author's credentials and expertise. If you're a medical professional writing about health advice, ensure your bio clearly states your qualifications.

Tip 5. Use Author Schema markup for Google to grasp the author’s info faster. You can even use ChatGPT to produce schema markup for you. 

Tip 6. Prioritize creating high-quality, well-researched content that adheres to the highest editorial standards. Fact-check information, cite authoritative sources, and ensure your content is up-to-date and reflects the latest advancements in your field.

Tip 7. Showcase positive testimonials, reviews, and case studies to build social proof and demonstrate the value you provide.

#15 Font size of terms and links

Previous thoughts on the ranking factor: 

We didn’t think of it too much, did we? The focus was primarily on content quality and user experience, not the specific size of fonts.

New findings:

The leak mentions font size as a possible factor, though its importance is unclear.

They are doing the same for the anchor text of links.

Optimization tips:

Tip 1. Prioritize font sizes that render well on various screen dimensions. Use responsive design principles to ensure your website adjusts font size automatically for optimal viewing on all devices.

Tip 2. Aim for font sizes that meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This ensures readability for users with visual impairments and promotes inclusivity. A general guideline is to use a minimum font size of 16px for body text.

Tip 3. Maintain a balance between different font sizes to create a visual hierarchy on your webpages. Use larger fonts for headings and titles to establish a clear structure and guide users through your content.

Tip 4. If your target audience skews older, you might opt for slightly larger font sizes to ensure optimal readability.

Tip 5. You can try to slightly increase the font for super-important links or terms.

Did the document mention something else?

There are 14K factors in the doc. I tried to choose the juiciest ones above. But there are a couple more points that are worth mentioning.


A couple of modules indicate Google whitelists certain domains related to elections and COVID-19 – isElectionAuthority and isCovidLocalAuthority. Well, we’ve long known Google (and Bing) have “exception lists” when “specific algorithms inadvertently impact websites.”


Content can be demoted for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • A link doesn’t match the target site,
  • SERP signals indicate user dissatisfaction,
  • Location (“global” and “super global” pages),
  • Exact match domains,
  • Adult content.

Video sites

According to the leaked document, websites that are composed of 50% or more video content are treated differently. The document mentions the use of a metric called isVideoFocusedSite to differentiate these video-focused sites from others.


Google's ranking factors are intricate and continuously changing. Additionally, Google's algorithms do not work in isolation but rather in conjunction. Therefore, their influence is constantly distributed differently. Furthermore, it appears that Google has some equalizing coefficients, meaning that the same factor may play a more or less significant role in different situations. 

All in all, the most effective approach to SEO remains creating high-quality content, optimizing for user experience, and adhering to the best SEO practices

So, what do you think about these insights? Did you find any other Google ranking factors in the leaked doc? Share your thoughts in our Facebook group.

Article stats:
Linking websites N/A
Backlinks N/A
InLink Rank N/A
Data from Seo SpyGlass: try free backlink checker.
Got questions or comments?
Join our community on Facebook!