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10 Critical Google Ranking Factors for 2021

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Struggling to gain traction on Google? Can't seem to get the rankings you deserve? These 10 tips will help you improve your rankings pretty quickly.

Nearly all lists I read about Google’s ranking factors are far too long.

They discuss everything excepts the raw fundamental ranking factors, which I will break down for you. These are the factors that matter and are the cornerstone for your SEO rankings.

Our approach is simple; rather than listing 150+ factors, I will list the top 10 only.

1) Linkbuilding

Link building is ( in my opinion ) the most critical ranking factor. Backlinks send ranking signals to Google and are essential in helping your site establish trust and authority. 

How does quality backlinks affect SEO?

Because of Pagerank, which is a score, Google uses to determine your sites trust, authority and position in the SERP’s. SEMrush tells us that: An increase in your PageRank score was a great demonstrator that your SEO strategy (and, in particular, your link building strategy) was working. 

Page rank used to be a big deal with many SEO companies and has died down recently, but links between two separate sites are enormous. I know this because I can see the effect backlinking has on our client’s rankings. MOZ explains this clearly; backlinks are especially valuable for SEO because they represent a “vote of confidence” from one site to another………So, earning these backlinks can have a positive effect on a site’s ranking position or search visibility.

Earning these backlinks is the way to boost your organic Google rankings, and the best way to do this is to publish content the people want to share on their blogs or website. Business owners hand this task over to SEO companies, as they don’t have the time, energy or experience to create quality content.

The two most important backlinking factors are relevance and authority.

Relevance – the sites that link to your site has to have some relevancy. So, if your site is about ‘cosmetic surgery’, ideally, a relevant backlink would come from a medical-related website.

Authority – backlinks from established, trustworthy websites tend to push your SEO rankings on Google faster. These sites should have; high DA (domain authority ) and a decent amount of web traffic. 

I love using the website by Ahrefs to check the DA of any website that links to me.

SEO Sydney Experts Tip: don’t rush into hiring an SEO company that promises fast rankings based on their cheap backlinking strategy. Many of these agencies will, but low-quality links or worse, use their private blog networks (PBN’s) to try and pass page rank.

The task to action: build more high-quality DA links to rank higher on Google.

2) Freshness

If you have a site that’s news dependent or have customers that are searching for daily specials, then regular updates to freshen your website is crucial. Google knows that people want to see the latest news or special discounts to place sites with the freshest, newest content at the top of the SERP’s.

If your a tradesperson or a small business owner, fresh content is not so critical but still has relevance as people want to see the latest service or products you have to offer. For example, a pergola installation business in Sydney, like Pioneer Shade, won’t have to update its service page unless they have a new pergola product. Still, they should update their gallery page with the latest pergola installation.

SEO Sydney Experts Tip: 

If freshness is essential, keep updating your website with new articles, blogs or news items. Perhaps even create a YouTube video that Google can display on the results. 

If freshness is essential but not so important, update your page, say every couple of months and refresh when there is a drop in the rankings.

If freshness does not matter, create a great landing page with great content and graphics and audit this every year.

3) Topical authority

Search Engine Journal tells us that; Topical authority is a perceived authority over a niche or broad idea set, as opposed to authority over a singular idea or term.

Many SEO agencies have relied on link building in the past to create authority. Link building is still a huge ranking factor, but site owners need to develop high-quality on-topic content about their niche to establish their business as a topical authority. Pretty much the same as I’m doing for this website. I publish in-depth content related to SEO which adds to the sites topical authority.

Marketmuse elaborates on this point by saying; Building topical authority has been proven to improve the ranking for existing keywords. It’s also a great way to expand the number of keywords for which a site ranks. The best part? Achieving topical authority with content is well within your control.

I am constantly looking to improve the topical authority of my website and business by researching blog topics online that are relevant, rich in information and helpful for small business owners.

Googles Hummingbird update, back in 2013, changed the search landscape forever and put topical authority fair and square in the sites of most SEO agencies. 

Before that, web owners could publish content geared towards pushing rank through keyword stuffing and writing for the search engines. Hummingbird shifted the narrative so that Google could detect natural-sounding language and use this as one of its key ranking factors.

Hummingbird was a massive evolution in searching for the user as they could now see results based on conversational search queries rather than specific keywords. So, if you were searching for something before Hummingbird, you had to type particular keywords about a topic ( which may have required knowledge on the subject). Now, you can type generic words in the search and still get very targeted results.

The upshot of this is that you have to have topical authority and continuously write content to cover many search queries about your niche. 

SEO Sydney Experts Tip: content writing is not easy, and from my experience, many business owners start with the best intentions and are super gung-ho about writing every month. But, this fades quickly. I strongly suggest ( and I am very serious about this) – allocate some marketing budget for a copywriter every month if you don’t feel you can sustain this exercise. Content marketing is super-important, so don’t ignore it as it will push your topical authority.

4) Search intent

Google varies search results for every query.

For example, if someone is searching for ‘buy surfboards online ‘, they are in buying mode. So Google will help us by listing only eCommerce websites at the top, making it super easy to find the best websites to purchase your next board.

search intent - seo sydney experts
The search intent is to display all eCommerce sites related to this query.

Conversely, a person searching for ‘how to learn to surf’ will see sites all about learning to surf. You might even get a few YouTube videos to help you. So if I were in the surf school business, I would be posting as many YouTube videos as possible and writing as many blogs and articles helping people learn to surf with tips and advice.


search intent - seo sydney experts
You should be posting blogs and YouTube videos for your business as you can see what google displays.


My first blog would be something like:

10 Tips that every person needs to know about learning to surf.

To understand the basics of optimising a search query, you need to know about the 4 C’s.

a) Content Style – is the dominant style ( and this is in 2021 ) in which Google displays the search results for a particular type of search query.

For example, if you were writing about ‘unblocking a drain’, you would have to create an explainer video and optimise this video for any chance of decent rankings. As you can see from the search results, Google favours ranking videos posted on YouTube rather than content. Because users searching on this subject, want quick answers as they might have a blocked drain and need to fix it asap.

search display Youtube videos - seo sydney experts
For most ‘how to’ queries, Google will show YoTube videos. So if you are intending on driving traffic with a ‘how to’ article, it’s best to create a video. Obviously, you can create an article if you want as well.


Be very aware of the content style rendering as you don’t want to waste time publishing written content when Google will only display videos.

b) Content type – this always falls into 4 separate categories: blog postsproductcategory, and landing pages.

So, for example, the top-ranking category pages for ‘buy gym shoes’ are all eCommerce category pages.

For ‘gym shoes’, you will see they are mostly product pages. And, for ‘best gym shoes to buy, they will more than likely be blog pages.





product pages example - seo sydney experts
Product pages examples will display when people search for a generic term


c) Content format – people searching for information on a topic will generally find content format results render as articles, tutorials or opinion pieces.

For example, ‘weight loss tips’ will render in a list format, as you can see below.

google display list format - seo sydney experts
Tips usually render with a list format as you can see. So if you want to write about tips a good idea is to have a number associated with it. Like 10 tips or 12 things to do etc.


An example of an opinion piece is when you search for:’ the future of online dating.’  Here you can see websites that have authority such as Forbes at the top with their opinion piece.

opinion pieces on Google - seo sydney experts
Trusted sites will render higher on the search results for opinion pieces.


d) Content angle – Content angle is the main talking point of the content with a specific search query.

For example, the top results for “how to surf” are aimed at beginners – so you have to make all your content easy to understand for beginners in a step by step process. Here you can see a combination of YouTube and content articles are ranking. 

display for beginners article on Google - seo sydney experts
A fantastic example of how Google will display videos and content on the same page. This shows you the importance of video marketing for certain search queries and search intent.

5) Content depth

Google wants to give browsers the best search experience, and it will display the most relevant and trustworthy results at the top of the SERP’s. It’s not all about the length of the copy but about the depth. Longer content isn’t always the best as users want quick answers to their questions or buy a product without having to wade through paragraphs of waffle.

For example, a query like “best surf brands”. You can see that Google will display the best surf brands from a reputable website. The search intent is not 100% clear that people want a list but maybe looking for other information. So Google gives us a people also ask section followed by blogs

SEO Sydney Experts Tip: If my business were in surfwear or surfboards, I would be publishing lists, blogs, and learning to content. But make sure the content addresses specific content topics – keep the content topical and make sure it has depth. I would also look at what people ask questions and write articles about this. Gogel has given us a gift with this as it already tells us what people are searching for – utilise this!

6) Page speed

Page speed is a massive ranking factor, and I have written about this here: The On-Page SEO Cheat Sheet for beginners. You can also see what Google has to say about Page Speed and even test your website and see how fast it loads.

Page speed is primarily a problem for pages that are very slow to load and affects about 1% of search queries. It’s not about loading quicker than the competition and beating them by a few milliseconds – it’s about delivering a seamless customer experience. You don’t want users waiting too long for your website to load as they will bounce off it. Ideally, you want to keep bounce rates low if site speed is an issue.

If you are concerned about site speed and its effect on your SEO, you can delve deeper into this topic by Moz: Site Speed – Are You Fast? Does it Matter for SEO?


HTTPS or Hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) is the secure version of HTTP, which is the primary protocol used to send data between a web browser and a website. Without it, your site loses lots of trust. Google places a lot of credence on sites that have HTTPS over websites that don’t. It may even display a not secure image next to the search results ( if browsing on chrome ). I feel that the importance of HTTPS will increase moving forward from 2021. 

SSL certificate - seo sydney experts
You don’t want to see this sign next to your website. It’s a massive turn off and will kill conversion rates.


SEO Sydney Experts Tip: HTTPS is easy to install and cheap. All you need to do is contact your hosting provider. They will install this SSL certificate for you within a couple of hours.

8) Mobile-friendly

In 2015, Google rolled out its mobile update, which affected a big chunk of websites that did not correctly render mobile devices. Search Engine Land reports that: Nearly 60 per cent of searches now from mobile devices – so it’s no wonder that Google has made this a massive ranking factor.

If you’re wondering how mobile-friendly your website is, you can always use this tool from Google’s mobile-friendly test. If you don’t like what you see, the next phone call should be to your web developer to fix this.

SEO Sydney Experts Tip: You can convert your website to be mobile-friendly reasonably quickly, especially if it’s on a WordPress platform.

9) User experience

Google tells us that: You should build a website to benefit your users, and any optimisation should be geared toward making the user experience better.

Over the years, this has become a serious ranking issue as Google wants to rank websites that offer its users the best user experience over those that don’t. What’s the point is displaying sites in the results that provide a shocking experience. It’s like walking into a brick and mortar store that smells bad, is dirty with unhelpful staff – you’ll walk out. It’s the same online. Google wants the browser to quickly enjoy the website and find what they were looking for ( a product, service, or information ).

Here are some helpful tips for creating a better user experience.

  • Easy-to-read content; use paragraphs with bold H1, H2 and H3 headings
  • Well-organised site; make the navigation simple and uncluttered.
  • Informative and valuable content; make sure all the content is unique and has depth and point.
  • Responsive design – a no-brainer
  • Keep graphics to a minimum.
  • Do not overuse stock photo library images.
  • No intrusive ads or pop up windows. 
  • Site designed around users’ needs and not the search engines. Give users what they want and try to avoid DIY websites.
  • Fix any broken or 404 pages.

There is so much debate in the SEO space about what Google constitutes as the best user experience. Still, overall if you design, write and develop a website that’s aesthetic whilst at the same time offering a seamless experience, you should do just fine in the rankings. 

SEO Sydney Experts Tip: don’t spend too much time freaking out about bounce rates and measuring metrics – focus on designing a great site and writing good copy.

10) Accurate content

Google wants to give users helpful, informative and yes, the content has to be accurate. You can’t publish untruthful content. Just imagine Google published inaccurate content about a medical condition, and you followed it. Not only is it dangerous, but it’s also life-threatening. Googles knowledge graphs can decipher the information, and according to Ahrefs, users get more relevant search results, and SEOs get more traffic to deserving content.

Google also uses an extensive knowledge base of interconnected data points about people, areas, places, things, and other websites to deliver results. If you have inaccurate information, don’t expect Google to display it in the SERP’s. 

SEO Sydney Experts Tip: if you are going to write content, it’s a good idea to reference this content as an additional back up with trusted resources like Wikipedia or other trusted similar industry business niches. You can see from this blog how many references (with outbound links) I make to other websites to prove or substantiate my points.

In conclusion

You take all the above points and narrow it down to some biteable takeaways.

  1. Give browsers what they want
  2. Make sure it’s mobile-friendly
  3. Make it a pleasant experience.
  4. Be concise
  5. Be the authority in one area or topic – don’t try to cover everything
  6. Get decent high DA backlinks from relevant sites
  7. Update old content by refreshing pages
  8. Get a respectable and reputable looking website

So there you have it. These points are not rocket science or quick fixes but lots of grunt work. You have to earn the trust of Google, and this is not easy. Put the effort in, follow these tips, and you’ll start to see great results.


steven waldberg - ceo seo sydney experts

About the author

Steven Waldberg

Steven is the director of SEO Sydney Experts and is one of the founding members ( that’s over 18 years ago). He has one of the longest careers in the SEO and content marketing industry and has written for many prestigious websites, including B & T and AdNews. If you’re serious about working with someone who will dedicate 100% of himself to your business; Steven is your SEO Expert.

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