How Search Engines Work, Part Two: Page Ranking Factors

February 15, 2023
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The initial tasks of search engines are to discover, crawl, and index content. After processing content on URLs, search engines store and organize this data and display it as search results. When a person makes a query, search engines draw up the data it has and ranks the matching results according to various factors. In Part One of our series on understanding search engines, we talked about how crawling and indexing happens. Here, we will look at some criteria Google uses to rank web pages.

How Google Ranks Web Pages 

Out of all the search engines out there, Google is still the most popular, and to understand the value of ranking factors, we must look at how the top search engine works. Google utilizes approximately 200 ranking factors, and the most important include backlinks, relevance, mobile-friendliness, topical authority, freshness, and page speed.


One of the most crucial ranking factors is the use of backlinks. Backlinks, aside from content itself, are among Google’s most important ranking factors. Since 1997, Google has emphasized the significance of links. It started with PageRank, a formula that determines the value of a web page based on the quality and quantity of backlinks leading to it. From then on, it has been clear that there is a correlation between the number of other websites linked to a page with the organic traffic it gets from Google. However, having many backlinks doesn’t mean Google will automatically rank a page high. It is still possible that a page with a few links that have high-quality content can outrank a different one with numerous links but have low-quality content. As such, you should be able to employ effective backlinks based on essential attributes.

  • An effective backlink exhibits authority, meaning that it leads to authority sites connected to the government, reputed institutions, large corporations, or other leading websites. Authority links have a strong connection with search engines due to their prominence. Though it may be difficult to obtain, once you get an authority link, it will increase your ranking significantly. 
  • Another element of an effective backlink is relevance. A relevant backlink means the content is not just thematic but it’s also trustworthy. A sign that a backlink is relevant is when other high-quality and established sites link back to it. 


Speaking of relevance, it takes more than just matching keywords to be considered relevant by Google. It’s also important to look at interaction data to say if the search is useful for queries. With interaction data, Google can match what is being searched for based on user experience. Google employs technology to aid them with interaction data, like The Knowledge Graph. This database enables Google to understand and analyze the relationship between entities being searched for. It is why when you search for ‘apple,’ Google will show more results for Apple, the technology company, rather than the fruit.

You can ensure a relevant webpage by being prudent with the keywords, images, and links you place. The entities on the page will be rated in relevance by Google and their technology, so make sure that your page is optimal.


Today, more than half—approximately 65 percent—of Google searches occur on mobile devices. Mobile-friendliness is now a ranking factor, even for desktop searches, because Google has switched to mobile-first indexing. Their algorithms now use the mobile version for ranking and indexing of the content across all devices. So, a lack of mobile-friendliness means potentially lower rankings. You can check how your website fares with this factor by referring to the Mobile Usability report in the Google Search Console or by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

Topical Authority

Google’s search system might consider a page as a good source for one topic but might not count it as a reliable source for another one. For example, the search system might view the U.S. Department of Energy’s official website as an authoritative source for queries related to “net-zero carbon emissions 2050.” However, it will probably not consider it an authority for queries related to “COVID-19 variants of concern.”


Freshness matters for some results more than others. For a keyword like “Netflix new releases Christmas,” content must be fresh because searchers are asking about recently-added shows they can watch during the holidays. Newly published or updated results on this topic will likely rank higher on Google. 

Meanwhile, queries like “top LED TV brands” won’t be as reliant on freshness. A post from months ago would still provide value to someone searching for a new television. So, Google won’t be likely to differentiate among posts based on publishing date. Similarly, Google will not always choose the most recent results for keywords related to evergreen content.

Page Speed

Page speed has been a ranking factor for desktop searches since 2010, and Google made it a factor for mobile searches in 2018. Your page does not need to be incredibly fast, but it does need to deliver a decent speed. If your pages are already fast, making it a few milliseconds faster will probably not contribute much to your rankings. Your page only needs to be fast enough so it does not affect the user experience negatively.

PageSpeed Insights can give you data and insights on making your page faster. It also shows your page’s rating based on Google’s Core Web Vitals, which assesses loading performance, visual stability, and interactivity. According to Google, Core Web Vitals will be a ranking signal as of mid-2021. Google Search Console provides information on your pages’ performance. A developer can help you optimize this aspect of your website if you have many pages that need improvement.


If you understand how Google ranks web pages, you will know how to optimize your website better. Content marketing involves writing compellingly and incorporating keywords. However, it must consider other aspects of optimization. Backlinks, freshness, mobile-friendliness, and all the other factors we discussed here are becoming just as important as the content of pages. Consulting an SEO specialist lets you keep up with these developments and ensure that your pages have the best chance of making it to the top of search results pages.

Deliver content that matters to your audience when you team up with Ranked. With our managed SEO services, you get a comprehensive, end-to-end solution—we handle everything from planning and keyword research to A/B testing for your page. Schedule a call with the team or activate your account today!