Google’s Major Ranking Factors Part 1 – Backlinks

Google’s ranking algorithm is made up of more than 200 signals, the relevancy and importance of each is highly debated and cannot be known for sure. The machine learning capabilities of their most recent algorithm updates and ability to understand semantics are impressive. It can be useful to know every detail of the list but for most businesses, the top ranking signals are all that is necessary to get ahead with good visibility in Google.

Today we’ll look at backlinks and several factors that represent the top signals for really making an impact for your business. We’ve taken data from our own research and experience as SEO and marketing providers as well as studies from SearchMetrics and Backlinko.


Backlinks are the number one ranking signal and a much-misunderstood area for businesses new to SEO. For many years, links pointing to a website have been a major factor in Google ranking. At first, the number of links was a good measure of how you might rank in Google. Over time the way Google looks at these links has evolved and they are now able to identify quality, relevant links and give more weight to these, ignoring or penalising businesses for poor or ‘black hat’ linking practices. Yes, Google can now identify so-called link schemes and low-quality links created for the sole purpose of higher rankings.

Google doesn’t want you to create links so that you rank higher, they want the users and creators of other websites to link to you because your content is good, relevant and interesting.

So you may think that quality and not quantity is what matters but this is only partly true. The number of links pointing to your domain is still very important and has a big impact on your ranking potential. It is suggested that a site’s link score is comprised of individual quality scores of all inbound links based on relevancy, links to the linking site etc etc. So more links results in a higher score as long as they are relevant, quality links.

Links also need to come from a variety of domains, link after link from the same place will not carry much weight and Google may only account for one link from each domain.

What to do about low-quality links

Low-quality links may include links from unrelated sites that have the potential to harm your SEO work. Just a few low-quality links are to be expected and shouldn’t cause you too much trouble to eradicate. Simply contact the site owner asking them to remove the link. If you fail to get the link removed in this way or you have a large number of low quality or spammy links, you may consider using the Google disavow tool. This tool enables you to list links for Google to ignore when evaluating your link profile. You can create and upload a disavow file to Google Search Console but be careful, you’ll need to follow certain syntax and formatting rules so a technical SEO professional may be needed to assist you.

Anchor text diversity

Making sure links are coming from pages relevant to the page you are optimising is important and to do this you need to understand how Google works out what pages are about. Page titles, meta data and link anchor text are all signals that Google uses to identify content relevance between linking pages.

While relevance is important, so is diversity of anchor text. For many years it was considered good practice to allocate keywords to particular pages on your website and build links using exact match anchor text for those keywords pointing to the corresponding page. This has all changed along with guidelines for on-page optimisation due to the complexity of the Google algorithm.

Nowadays you’ll be optimising for searcher intent rather than specific variations of keywords and hopefully creating quality, relevant content. So your backlinks should be semantically relevant to the page they are linking to but many similar anchor text links could cause a penalty from Google’s Penguin algorithm.

While there are no hard and fast rules on how many different kinds of anchor text should be in your link profile there are a couple of rules we follow to help guarantee a diverse range and ‘natural’ link profile.

We recommend a minimum of 60% branded links pointing to your domain with URLs making up another 20%, generic text such as ‘here’ or ‘visit the website’and topic-related text should account for the other 20%. You can check out your most commonly used anchor texts in your backlink profile in SEO Powersuite SpyGlass

Brand mentions, the missing link?

It’s been a few years since we first started talking about implied links or brand mentions and their potential impact on website visibility. Since then, there has been little clarification on just how much weight a brand mention or unlinked URL could carry within the Google algorithms and where exactly this should fit within your link building strategy.

Google’s patents seem to suggest that this fits within the Panda algorithm and everything we know about how they decide what’s relevant, quality and well received by web users, leads us to think that these kind of ‘links’ should be a small but important part of your link profile.

You can also use tracking of brand mentions in your outreach and contact sites to request that they add a link to a relevant page on your website. This is likely to carry more weight than just a mention, but remember that mentions increase your authority not just with Google but also with each person who engages with that content, building your reputation and trust.

Final thoughts

While Google’s algorithms are complex, one overriding factor should be at the forefront of your mind when thinking about promoting and optimising your website for visibility.

Does this benefit web users?

Google wants to provide the most relevant, engaging and useful content they can, that’s how they’ll remain the biggest search engine on the planet! So, whatever you do online, make it the best quality resource it can be, be honest about what you’re providing and think about user expectations, experience and behaviour.

If it’s relevant it’s most likely SEO future proof, so forget quick fixes and cheap links and buy into real PR and interest in what you’re offering. Reach out to relevant websites and influencers in your niche and get them excited about what you’re doing, offer them great content and ask for relevant links.

Join us next time for insights into on-page SEO and ranking factors!