Google universal ranking factors: an overview of resources

Google is much more than a search engine that searches for the best webpage to fit your request. Over the years they launched many different vertical search engines like Google News, Google Books and Google Places. More and more results from those vertical search engines tend to appear in the regular search results, creating universal (or blended) search results pages.

Because these universal results can replace regular results and ofter are placed above the regular results SEO doesn’t focus on organice results alone anymore. You need to optimise for the vertical search engines as well. All those different search engines require different approaches for ranking in their SERPs, in this article I try to make an overview of the most valuable information for ranking in Google’s universal search engines.

Google Organic ranking factors

Let me first start with the organic results. SEOmoz publishes an update on the ranking factors for ranking in search engines every two years. Those ranking factors come from a survey taken from 72 SEO experts all over the world. In my opinion this list is a great overview of the ranking factors and their estimated weight.

Oh yeah, Google tries to give some information about ranking factors as well.

Google AdWords ranking factors

Although Google AdWords is not really a vertical search engine there are ranking factors involved for ranking the ads. Google explains it partially in this post.

The Quality Score is however still a bit mysterious. For more in-depth information about the Quality Score check out the Quality Score Handbook by PPC Hero:

Google News ranking factors

Google News is very valuable source of traffic for a very distinct group of websites. Ranking news takes a whole different  approach than regular results. An interesting difference from ranking in regular results is that for Google News PageRank (# of links) don’t matter.

Two extensive articles that cover ranking factors from A to Z are: by our own Barry Adams; and by Danny Sullivan

The explanation of the patent for improving the ranking of news articles can be found here:

Google Blog Search ranking factors

Google Blog Search is a vertical that searches for blogposts and blogs as a whole. David Harry took a dive under the hood of Google Blog Search and analyzed two patents granted to Google for ranking blogs.

Google Videos ranking factors

Videos are ranking in the SERPs more and more. As Joost de Valk and David Harry mentioned in their summer interviews here on State of Search: video is getting increased visibility and should therefore get your attention.

Joost de Valk explains on his blog how to get your videos indexed.

Terry van Horne covers the nuts and bolts of video optimization on the Fire Horse Trail.

Google Images ranking factors

Google images were one of the first results appearing in the SERPs and are shown very often. However, documentation about ranking for Google images is hard to find. Possibly because visitors from Google images aren’t as valuable as other visitors. Because search engines can’t ‘read’ images surrounding and descriptive aspects play an important role here.

Bill Slawski analyzes the patent on SEO by the sea. Other articles seem to cover the exact same factors or less.

Update: Barry Adams wrote a great article about ranking in Google images as a result of the discussion below this post. Read it here on State of Search. Don’t forget the comments below that post.

Google Maps / Places ranking factors

Local search is a whole new world. You can special in local search optimization because it is extremely valuable for a wide range of business. And with the explosive growth of mobile search it will become more and more valuable in the near feature. Therefore there is a lot of extensive information available. But we’ll start with Google’s explanation:

“All Google search results are based primarily on relevance, and Google Maps listings are no different. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors. Sometimes our search technology decides that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer.

Google Maps and Google Places are a free service, so there’s no way to request or pay for a better ranking. We also can’t provide additional details about our ranking algorithm. We do our best to keep the details of the algorithm confidential in order to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.”

David Mihm does a survey about local search ranking factors. The results from the latest edition can be found here:

Another interesting article is this one by Tom Critchlow. He shares his data on local research (and formulates some findings himsefl). So if you want to experiment with some data yourself, go check it out!

Google Updates (real time search) ranking factors

Google’s real time search is still a new vertical by Google. Only released at the beginning of this year there’s still some interesting information available. In this case even by Google itself.

The Techonolgy Review published an interview with Google’s Amit Singhal where they cover real-time search ranking:

On SiteVisibility there’s an interesting beginners guide.

Google Shopping (product search) ranking factors

Google shopping is a vertical specifically targeting e-commerce sites. Although it is not available in every country yet, it can be a very important part of your e-commerce traffic sources. A very specific factor for Google Shopping are reviews.

Tom Critchlow covers the ranking factors on SEOmoz.

So, you still have a lot to do to cover all the verticals? At least now you know where to focus on. If you want to know which results are blended in for your important search queries, check this out:

Good luck!

Update august 30, 2010: added link to Google images post.

About Jeroen van Eck

Jeroen van Eck is a consultant search engine marketing at the online marketing company E-Focus in the Netherlands.

21 thoughts on “Google universal ranking factors: an overview of resources

  1. Good post Jeroen. Re: SEo for image search, Bill Slawski’s post is perhaps a bit too roundabout, and the patent he describes is 4 years old.

    I have a short ranking factors checklist that I stick to when optimising images for Image Search. Listed in order of importance:

    – Image filename
    – Image alt text
    – Image caption
    – Surrounding text (headline, etc)
    – Filesize & load speed
    – Preference for JPG images
    – Dimensions of at least 250×300
    – Image title text

    Maybe I should do a SoS blog post on this. 😉

  2. @Barry Please do. The documentation on the topic is really shallow. Although I don’t think there’s very much more to say about.
    Other factors that you don’t mention, which I believe have a great impact are the presence of similar images on other websites andthe CTR of an image. Of course those are difficult to optimise.

  3. Thanks for including a couple of blog posts from SEO by the Sea in this roundup of resources.

    The intent behind my 2008 post about image search was to describe some of the factors that Microsoft noted they would consider when ranking an image in image search, as described in their patent.

    What set it apart from other patents I had seen about image search from one of the major search engines was Microsoft saying that they would look at more than just the text associated with an image and information about the image itself, or the kind of factors that Barry lists in his comment above, when ranking an image in image search.

    Those can include things like how many other pages on the Web contain the same image, whether images are linked together such as in a thumbnail to larger version type relationship, how often the same image is included on the same site, if the image is hosted on the same domain as the page, where the image is located on the page it appears upon, how much of the page the image is on is taken up by that image, how many links on the Web point to the image, and others.

    It’s possible that Google may also be considering some of those factors as well, but we don’t know that for certain.

    Google has published about a few other approaches that should be considered when writing about ranking images, such as the method described in their paper on “PageRank for Product Image Search” or the tagging that goes on in their Google Image Labeler application, or the facial recognition software that they use when determining whether an image contains a face, or the image similarity approach used in Google Image Swirl, or the object and landmark recognition approaches seen in Google Goggles.

    User behavior data may also play a role in determining how well images might rank, based upon a number of factors, not limited to; click-throughs of images, click throughs of images versus predicted click throughs for those images based upon their positions in results, whether images are clicked through when appearing in Universal Search results, whether images are hovered over with a mouse pointer when appearing in Universal Search results, and more.

  4. @Bill Thanks for the clarification! Now we have a list of possible ranking factors for image search that’s useful for optimizing your images. I really couldn’t find it anywhere else.

  5. You’re welcome, Jeroen

    Oddly, it is something that people haven’t written too much about.

    Hopefully Barry will write the post he mentions in his comment, and give us a resource that’s definitely missing on the Web.

  6. @Bill, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet and I’ll definitely pick it up! I’ll write up a good one (hopefully) here on SoS on image search optimisation. And if I take a few cues from your article on the matter, I hope you’ll see it as a compliment and not as plagiarism. 😉

  7. Jeroen,

    Great post with valuable resources for all who are interested in SEO. Optimizing for Universal/Blended Search has become increasingly important and with so many types of results populating the search results, as we listed in a post from a few years back,, it is resources such as this post that will help people get a better understanding of Universal Search and blended search results.

  8. Great and easy to understand overview.
    I know it’s impossible to update everything live – but would bought image ads be at the same optimization as ordinary AdWords?

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