Google's Secrets You Never Know

Google Ranking Factors - SEO Checklist

There are "over 200 SEO factors" that Google uses to rank pages in the Google search. Here is the speculation - educated guesses by SEO webmasters on top webmaster forums. Should you wish to achieve a high ranking, the various confirmed and suspected Google Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Rules are listed below. The SEO Rules listed below are NOT listed by weight, and not by any presumed relevance - THAT exercise is left up to the reader.


Factor POSITIVE -ON-Page SEO Factors Brief Note 
1 Keyword in URL  First word is best, second is second best, etc. 
2 Keyword in Domain name  Same as in page-name-with-hyphens 
  Keywords - Header 
3 Keyword in Title tag  Keyword in Title tag - close to beginning
Title tag 10 - 60 characters, no special characters. 
4 Keyword in Description meta tag  Shows theme - less than 200 chars.
Google no longer "relies" upon this tag, but will often use it. 
5 Keyword in Keyword metatag  Shows theme - less than 10 words.
Every word in this tag MUST appear somewhere in the body text. If not, it can be penalized for irrelevance.
No single word should appear more than twice.
If not, it may be considered spam. Google purportedly no longer uses this tag, but others do. 
  Keywords - Body 
6 Keyword density in body text  5 - 20% - (all keywords/ total words)
Some report topic sensitivity - the keyword spamming threshold % varies with the topic. 
7 Individual keyword density  1 - 6% - (each keyword/ total words) 
8 Keyword in H1, H2 and H3  Use Hx font style tags appropriately 
9 Keyword font size  "Strong is treated the same as bold, italic is treated the same as emphasis" . . . Matt Cutts July 2006 
10 Keyword proximity (for 2+ keywords)  Directly adjacent is best 
11 Keyword phrase order  Does word order in the page match word order in the query?
Try to anticipate query, and match word order. 
12 Keyword prominence (how early in page/tag)  Can be important at top of page, in bold, in large font 
  Keywords - Other 
13 Keyword in alt text  Should describe graphic - Do NOT fill with spam
(Was part of Google Florida OOP - tripped a threshold - may still be in effect to some degree as a red flag, when summed with all other on-page optimization - total page optimization score - TPOS). 
14 Keyword in links to site pages (anchor text)  Links out anchor text use keyword? 
  NAVIGATION - INTERNAL LINKS 
15 To internal pages- keywords?  Link should contain keywords.
The filename "linked to" should contain the keywords.
Use hyphenated filenames, but not long ones - two or three hyphens only. 
16 All Internal links valid?  Validate all links to all pages on site.
Use a free link checker. I like this one. 
17 Efficient - tree-like structure  TRY FOR two clicks to any page - no page deeper than 4 clicks 
18 Intra-site linking  Appropriate links between lower-level pages 

NAVIGATION - OUTGOING LINKS 
19 To external pages- keywords?  Google patent - Link only to good sites. Do not link to link farms. CAREFUL - Links can and do go bad, resulting in site demotion. Unfortunately, you must devote the time necessary to police your outgoing links - they are your responsibility. 
20 Outgoing link Anchor Text  Google patent - Should be on topic, descriptive 
21 Link stability over time  Google patent - Avoid "Link Churn" 
22 All External links valid?  Validate all links periodically. 
23 Less than 100 links out total  Google says limit to 100,
but readily accepts 2-3 times that number. ref 2k 
121 Linking to Authority  Some say this gives a boost -
(added)  Others say that is absurd. However, it certainly is the opposite of linking to trash, which WILL hurt you. 
  OTHER ON-Page Factors 
24 Domain Name Extension .gov sites seem to be the highest status
Top Level Domain - TLD  .edu sites seem to be given a high status
  .org sites seem to be given a high status
  .com sites excel in encompassing all the spam/ crud sites, resulting in the need for the highest scrutiny/ action by Google.
  Perhaps one would do well with the new .info domain class.<update> - Nope. Spammers jumped all over it - no safe haven there. Not so much, now - .info sites can rank highly. 
25 File Size  Try not to exceed 100K page size (however, some subject matter, such as this page, requires larger file sizes).
Smaller files are preferred <40K (lots of them). 
26 Hyphens in URL  Preferred method for indicating a space, where there can be no actual space
One or two= excellent for separating keywords (i.e., pet-smart, pets-mart)
Four or more= BAD, starts to look spammy
Ten = Spammer for sure, demotion probable? 
27 Freshness of Pages  Google patent - Changes over time
Newer the better - if news, retail or auction!
Google likes fresh pages. So do I. 
28 Freshness - Amount of Content Change  New pages - Ratio of old pages to new pages 
29 Freshness of Links  Google patent - May be good or bad
Excellent for high-trust sites
May not be so good for newer, low-trust sites 
30 Frequency of Updates  Frequent updates = frequent spidering = newer cache 
31 Page Theming  Page exhibit theme? General consistency? 
32 Keyword stemming  Stem, stems, stemmed, stemmer,
stemming, stemmist, stemification 
33 Applied Semantics  Synonyms, CIRCA white paper 
34 LSI  Latent Semantic Indexing - Speculation, no proof 
35 URL length  Keep it minimized - use somewhat less than the 2,000 characters allowed by IE - less than 100 is good, less is even better 
  OTHER ON-SITE Factors   
36 Site Size - Google likes big sites  Larger sites are presumed to be better funded, better organized, better constructed, and therefore better sites. Google likes LARGE sites, for various reasons, not all positive. This has resulted in the advent of machine-generated 10,000-page spam sites - size for the sake of size. Google has caught on and dumped millions of pages, or made them supplemental. 
37 Site Age  Google patent - Old is best. Old is Golden. 
38 Age of page vs. age of site  Age of page vs. age of other pages on site
Newer pages on an older site will get faster recognition. 
Note: For ALL the POSITIVE On-Page factors listed above. PAGE RANK can OVERRIDE them all. So can Google-Bombing.
Factor NEGATIVE Brief Note 
# ON-Page SEO Factors
39 Text presented in graphics form only Text represented graphically is invisible to search engines. 
No ACTUAL body text on the page 
40 Affiliate site?  The Florida update went after affiliates with a vengeance - flower and travel affiliates were hit hard - cookie-cutter sites with massive inter-linking, but little unique content. Subsequent updates have also targeted affiliates. 
41 Over optimization penalty (OOP)  Penalty for over-compliance with well-established, accepted web optimization practices. Too high keyword repetition (keyword stuffing) may get you the OOP. Overuse of H1 tags has been mentioned. Meta-tag stuffing. 
42 Link to a bad neighborhood  Don't link to link farms, FFAs (Free For All's)
Also, don't forget to check the Google status of EVERYONE you link to periodically. A site may go "bad", and you can end up being penalized, even though you did nothing. For instance, some failed real estate sites have been switched to p0rn by unscrupulous webmasters, for the traffic. This is not good for you, if you are linking to the originally legitimate URL. 
43 Redirect thru refresh metatags  Don't immediately send your visitor to another page other than the one he/ she clicked on, using meta refresh. 
44 Vile language - ethnic slur  Including the George Carlin 7 bad words you can't say on TV, plus the 150 or so that followed. Don't shoot yourself right straight in the foot. Also, avoid combinations of normal words, which when used together, become something else entirely - such as the word juice, and the word l0ve. See why I wrote that zero? I don't even want to get a proximity penalty, either. Paranoia, or caution? You decide. I always want to try to put my "best foot forward". 
45 Poison words  The word "Links" in a title tag has been suggested to be a bad idea. Here is my list of Poison Words for Adsense. This penalty has been loosened - many of these words now appear in normal context, with no problems. But watch your step. 
46 Excessive cross-linking  - within the same C block (IP=xxx.xxx.CCC.xxx)
If you have many sites (>10, author's guess) with the same web host, prolific cross-linking can indicate more of a single entity, and less of democratic web voting. Easy to spot, easy to penalize.
"This does not apply to a small number of sites" .. (this author guesses the number 10, JAWG) . . . "hosted on a local server". . Matt Cutts July 2006 
47 Stealing images/ text blocks from another domain  Copyright violation - Google responds strongly
if you are reported. ref egol
File Google DMCA 
48 Keyword stuffing threshold  In body, meta tags, alt text, etc. = demotion 
49 Keyword dilution  Targeting too many unrelated keywords on a page, which would detract from theming, and reduce the importance of your REALLY important keywords. 
50 Page edit - can reduce consistency  Google patent -
Google is now switching between a "newer" cache, and several "older" caches, frequently drawing from BOTH at the same time.
This was possibly implemented to frustrate SERP manipulators. Did your last edit substantially alter your keywords, or theme? Expect noticeable SERP bouncing. 
51 Frequency of Content Change  Google patent - Too frequent = bad 
52 Freshness of Anchor Text  Google patent - Too frequent = bad 
53 Dynamic Pages  Problematic - know pitfalls - shorten URLs, reduce variables (". . no more than 2 or 3", M.Cutts July 2006), lose the session IDs 
54 Excessive Javascript  Don't use for redirects, or hiding links 
55 Flash page - NOT  Most (all-?) SE spiders can't read Flash content
Provide an HTML alternative, or experience lower SERP positioning. 
56 Use of Frames  Spidering Problems with Frames - STILL 
57 Robot exclusion "no index" tag  Intentional self-exclusion 
58 Single pixel links  A red flag - one reason only - a sneaky link. 
59 Invisible text  OK - No penalty - Google advises against this.
All over the place - but nothing is ever done. (The text is the same color as the background, and hence cannot be seen by the viewer, but can be visible to the search engine spiders.) I believe Google does penalize for hidden text, since it is an attempt to manipulate rank. Although they don't catch everyone. 
60 Gateway, doorway page OK - No penalty - Google advises against this.
  Google used to reward these pages.
(I see changes here - not only does the doorway page disappear, but the main page gets pushed down, as well - this is a welcome fix.)  Multiple entrance pages in the top ten SERPs - I see it daily. There they are at #2, with their twin at #5 - 6 months now. Reported numerous times. 
61 Duplicate content (YOUR'S) OK - No penalty - Google advises against this.
Duplicate content (THEIR'S) below (Highjack)  Google picks one (usually the oldest), and shoves it to the top, and pushes the second choice down. This has been a big issue with stolen content - the thief usurps your former position with YOUR OWN content. 
62 HTML code violations Doesn't matter - Google advises against this.
(The big G does not even use DOCTYPE declarations, required for W3C validation.)  Unless of course, the page is totally FUBAR.
  Simple HTML verification is NOT required (but advised, since it could contribute to your page quality factor - PQF).
Since the above 4 items are so controversial, I would like to add this comment: IN GENERAL, this works pretty well to keep webmasters in line. The fallacy of this is that attentive webmasters can readily observe continuing, blatant exceptions to these official pronouncements.
There are many things that Google would LIKE to have webmasters do, but that they simply cannot control, due to logistical considerations. Their only alternative is to foment fear and doubt by implying that any violation of their "suggestions" will result in swift and fierce demotion.
(This is somewhat dated - G is fixing these things.)  There are many anecdotes about Goggle "taking care" of a problem. Google states that they do not provide hand-tweaked "boosts", but are silent about hand-tweaked demotions. They occur, for sure. To believe otherwise is naive. Wouldn't YOU swat the most obnoxious flies? I would.
   
  It is becoming easier to determine the best thing to do. Try to avoid any Google penalties or demotions. 
119 Phrase-based ranking, filters, penalties  Feb. 2007 - Google patent granted. Do not use phrases that have been associated and correlated with known spamming techniques, or you will be penalized. What phrases? Ahh, you tell me.
     
Factor POSITIVE Brief Note 
# OFF-Page SEO Factors
  INCOMING LINKS : 
63 Page Rank  Based on the Number and Quality of links to you
Google link reporting continues to display just a SMALL fraction of your actual backlinks, and they are NOT just greater than PR4 - they are mixed. 
64 Total incoming links ("backlinks")  Historically, FAST counted best (http://www.alltheweb.com/).
No more - Yahoo (parent) broke it.
In Yahoo search, type in:
linksite:www.domain-name.com
linkdomain:www.domainname.com
Try MSN -
http://beta.search.msn.com/
Use link:www.domainname.com
Current TYPICAL Backlink Reporting Ratios -
Google - 30 links
MSN - 1,000 links
Yahoo - 3,000 links 
65 Incoming links from high-ranking pages  In 2004, Google used to count (report) the links from all PR4+ pages that linked to you. In 2005-2006, Google reported only a small fraction of the links, in what seemed like an almost random manner. In Feb. 2007, Google markedly upgraded (increased) the number of links that they report. 
66 Acceleration of link popularity Google patent
(". . . used to be a good thing" ... Martha)  Link acquisition speed boost - speculative
  Too fast = artificial? Cause of -30 penalty?
  Sandbox penalty imposed if new site? 
  FOR EACH INCOMING LINK : 
67 Page rank of the referring page  Based on the quality of links to you
68 Anchor text of Contains keyword, key phrase?
inbound link to you  #1 result in SERP does NOT EVEN need to have the keyword(s) on the page, ANYWHERE!!! What does that tell you? (Enables Google-bombing - search for "miserable failure") 
69 Age of link  Google patent - Old = Good. 
70 Frequency of change of anchor text  Google patent - Not good. Why would you do that? 
71 Popularity of referring page  Popularity = desirability, respect 
72 # of outgoing links on referrer page  Fewer is better - makes yours more important 
73 Position of link on referrer page  Early in HTML is best 
74 Keyword density on referring page  For search keyword(s) 
75 HTML title of referrer page  Same subject/ theme? 
76 Link from "Expert" site?  Google patent - Big time boost (Hilltop Algorithm)
Recently reported to give a big boost ! 
77 Referrer page - Same theme  From the same or related theme? BETTER 
78 Referrer page - Different theme  From different or unrelated theme? WORSE 
79 Image map link?  Problematic? 
80 Javascript link?  Problematic- attempt to hide link? 
  DIRECTORIES : 
81 Site listed in DMOZ Directory?  This is a tough one.
  Google's directory comes STRAIGHT from the DMOZ directory. You should try to get into dmoz.
The "Secret Hand" DMOZ Issues But you can't.
1. Legitimate sites CAN'T GET IN Be careful whom you approach with the old spondulix -
2. No Accountability Formal DMOZ Bribe Instructions.
3. Corrupt Editors It is almost impossible to get into DMOZ. This site cannot get in, after waiting over 2 YEARS (33 months). Not even in the lowest, most insignificant category, "Personal Pages". I guess I just don't "measure up" to the other 20,000+ sites in the personal category.
4. Competitive Sites Barred I'm not the suck-up type - I kissed them off long ago. What a waste of time!
5. Dirty Tricks Employed  
6. Rude dmoz editors UPDATE: This page (not site) finally got indexed in June 2007, thanks to a legitimate editor. No money was paid.
   
Flawed concept - communism doesn't work Google needs to DO SOMETHING about populating its own directory with the skewed, incomplete, poorly determined results from the dysfunctional Open Directory Project - the ODP!
Free editing? Nothing is free. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely 
DMOZ Sucks Discussions  
DMOZ Problems Discussions  
The Google Directory is produced by an unknown, ungoverned, unpoliced, ill-intentioned, retaliatory, monopoly enterprise, consisting of profiteering power-ego editors feathering their own nests - the ODP. AOL is making millions, and needs to police it's run-amok entity. Enough already! 
82 DMOZ category?  Theme fit category?
General or geographic category? Both are possible, and acceptable. 
83 Site listed in Yahoo Directory?  Big boost - You can get in by paying $299 each year.
Many swear it is worth it - many swear it isn't. 
84 Site listed in LookSmart Directory?  Boost? Another great vote for your site. 
85 Site listed in inktomi?  Inktomi has been absorbed internally by Yahoo. 
86 Site listed in other directories (About, BOTW, etc.)  Directory listing boost (If other RESPECTED directories link to you, this must be positive.) 
87 Expert site? (Hilltop or Condensed Hilltop)  Large-sized site, quality incoming links 
88 Site Age - Old shows stability  Google patent
Boost for long-established sites, new pages indexed easily
The opposite of the sand box. 
89 Site Age - Very New Boost  Temporary boost for very new sites - I estimate that this boost lasts from 1 week to 3 weeks - Yahoo does it too. 
90 Site Directory - Tree Structure  Influences SERPs - logical, consistent, conventional 
91 Site Map and more site map  Complete - keywords in anchor text 
92 Site Size  Previously, many pages preferred - conferred authority upon site, thus page. Bigger sites = better SERPs
Now, fewer pages preferred, due to proliferation of computer-generated pages. Google has been dropping pages like crazy. 
93 Site Theming  Site exhibit theme? Use many related terms?
Have you used a keyword suggestion tool?
A thesaurus? 
  PAGE METRICS - USER BEHAVIOR:  Currently implemented through the Google tool bar? 
94 Page traffic  Google patent - # of visitors, trend 
95 Page Selection Rate - CTR  Google patent - How often is a page clicked on? 
96 Time spent on page  Google patent - Relatively long time = indicates relevance hit 
97 Did user Bookmark page?  Google patent - Bookmark = Good 
98 Bookmark add/ removal frequency  Google patent - Recent = Good? 
99 How they left, where they went  Back button, link clicked, etc. 
  SITE METRICS - USER BEHAVIOR :  Currently implemented through the Google tool bar? 
100 Site Traffic  Google patent - # of visitors, increasing trend = good 
101 Referrer  Authoritative referrer? 
102 Keyword  Keyword searches used to find you 
103 Time spent on domain  Relatively long time = indicates relevance hit
Add brownie points. 
- DOMAIN OWNER BEHAVIOR : 
104 Domain Registration Time  Google patent - Domain Expiration Date
Register for 5 years, Google knows you are serious.
Register for 1 year, is it a throw-away domain? 
105 Are associated sites legitimate?  Google patent - No spam, ownership, etc. 
 
Factor NEGATIVE Brief Note 
# OFF-Page SEO Factors
120 Traffic Buying  Have you paid a company for web traffic? It is probably low quality traffic, with a zero conversion rate. Some providers of traffic for traffic's sake may be considered "bad neighborhoods". Can Google discount your traffic (for true popularity), because they know it's mostly phony?
(added)  Have you read about Traffic Power? 
106 Temporal Link Analysis  In a nut shell, old links are valued, new links are not.
This is intended to thwart rapid incoming link accumulation, accomplished through the tactic of link buying.
Just one of the sandbox factors. 
107 Change of Meanings  Query meaning changes over time, due to current events 
108 Zero links to you  You MUST have at least 1 (one) incoming link (back link) from some website somewhere, that Google is aware of, to REMAIN in the index. 
109 Link-buying  Google patent - Google hates link-buying, because it corrupts their PR model in the worst way possible.
  1. Does your page have links it really doesn't merit?
(Very good IF you don't get caught, 2. Did you get tons of links in a short time period?
but don't do it - 3. Do you have links from high-PR, unrelated sites? 
when caught, the penalty isn't worth it.)   
110 Prior Site Ranking  Google patent - High = Good 
111 Cloaking  Google promises to Ban! (Presenting one webpage to the search engine spider, and another webpage to everybody else.) 
112 Links from bad neighborhoods, affiliates  Google says that incoming links from bad sites can't hurt you, because you can't control them. Ideally, this would be true.
However, some speculate otherwise, esp., when other associated factors are thrown into the mix, such as web rings. 
113 Penalties - resulting from Should result in IMPRISONMENT, forthwith!
Domain Hijacking Grand Theft, mandatory minimum sentence.
(work with Google to fix)  The criminal COPIES your entire website, and HOSTS it elsewhere, with . . . a few changes. 
114 Penalty - Google TOS violation  WMG is the worst offender - gobbles up tons of Google server time by nervous Nellie webmasters. Google even mentions them by name. I think that Google will spank you when you cross the threshold, of say, 100 queries per day for the same term, from the same IP. Google can block your IP. Get a Google API. 
115 Server Reliability - S/B >99.9%  What is your uptime? Ever notice a daily time when your server is unavailable, like about 1:30 AM? How diligent must Googlebot be? This is the worst reason to get dropped - you just aren't there! An ISP maintenance interruption can cause delisting.. 
116 No more room The 232 problem - Google has hit the 4.3 Gigabyte address space wall. Bull! Google now has over 8 Gigs of indexed pages.
Pages being dropped from large sites  Thousands of pages are disappearing from various huge websites, but I think that it is G just cleaning house, by dumping computer-generated pages. 
117 Rank Manipulation by Impossible by Google definition (except for a few nasty tricks, like making your competition appear to be link spammers)
Competitor Attack  Ideally, there SHOULD be nothing that your competition can do to directly hurt your rankings. 
   
(1. Content theft causing you to get a duplicate content penalty, even though your content is the original - Google has problems tracking original authorship. People are still stealing my content, but nobody trumps me (in Google) with my own content - hats off to Google.)  However, an astute observer noticed that Google changed their website to read :
  Old verbiage = "There is nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking ..."
Examples - New verbiage = "There is ALMOST nothing a competitor can do ..."
Site-Wide Link Attack An obvious concession that Google thinks that at least some dirty tricks work!
and  
302 Redirect Attack Of course, there will always be new ones! 
and  
Hijacker Attack   
118 Bouncing Ball Algorithm G has moved to a daily dance. Multiple changing factors are applied daily. GOOD LUCK NOW on trying to figure things out!
IN ADDITION, some the above factors are being "tweaked" daily. Not only are the "weights" of the factors changed, but the formula itself changes. Change is the only constant.
An algo change can boost or demote your site. I put this in the negative factors section, because your position is never secure, unless of course, you are huge (PR=7 or greater). If you simply cannot achieve top position, your only alternative to first page SERP exposure may be Google Ad Words (you pay for exposure).
Today, I searched for an extremely competitive "2-word term", and I found that NOT ONE of the top ten Google SERPs had even one of the words on the page.
YOWSA! 
Today's theory - when it doesn't matter, anybody can get #1 in a second, if they know the on-page rules. BUT, after a certain "commercial competitive level", the "semantic analysis" algo kicks in, and less becomes more. The keyword density rules are flipped upon their noggins. I think that we are witnessing the evolution of search engine anti-seo sophistication, right before our very eyes. Fun stuff.